Who The Fuck Are You: A Conversation Between Mike Kleine and Joseph Grantham

I first encountered Mike Kleine’s work when I was working at a bookstore in New York City. We carried his book Kanley Stubrick (We Heard You Like Books 2016). We kept it up by the front registers. After flipping through it, I decided that it was probably very good but I never read it or bought it.

A few months ago, I read about his latest novel Lonely Men Club (Inside the Castle 2018). John Trefry, who runs Inside the Castle, was kind enough to send me a copy. It’s a big expensive book and I was bored and lonely in San Francisco and it was nice of him to send me a free copy.

I read bits and pieces of the book while at work in San Francisco. It’s a cool book. But then I left it at my parents’ house in California and moved to North Carolina. And I still didn’t know much of anything about Mike Kleine. He replied to one of my tweets the other day. He said he was watching a Christian Bale western called Hostiles and eating grapes. I direct messaged him and, naturally, I started asking him questions. And then I realized I should probably just interview him. Two writers who’ve never really read each other’s work, interviewing each other. It sounded like a good idea. And Mike said, “I like that idea. It seems like it’d be a more honest interview. No fanboy moments, just pure unadulterated, who the fuck are you, exactly?” So that’s what we did.

This interview was conducted via email over the course of a few days.

Joseph Grantham: All right. Let’s do this thing. I’m just gonna start. My girlfriend was looking over my shoulder while I was on your website and she wanted to know:

Where in West Africa are you from?

Mike Kleine: I was born in Senegal and the flag looks like this: 🇸🇳

I grew up speaking French and didn’t learn English until a little bit later (when I was 4 or 5; maybe earlier). These days, I speak both.

What’s the last great film you saw?

Grantham: There’s no movie theater near me out here in Woodland, North Carolina. The nearest one is about an hour away. So I’ve been missing out on a lot off recent stuff. But last night I watched this old documentary on Youtube about an Auschwitz survivor named Kitty who returns to the camp with her son to show him around and describe to him her experience in the camp. I’ve never really seen anything like it. It’s simultaneously harrowing and casual. It’s so simple and incredible.

How old are you? And how long have you lived in Cedar Rapids? And what did you do today in Cedar Rapids?

Kleine: I will have to watch this documentary on Youtube very soon.

I am 29. I have been living in Cedar Rapids since 2012. Today, I woke up around noon (had a terrible time staying asleep for some reason) and went to the library to pick up the following: You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames, The Avengers: Infinity War, Pitch Perfect 2, Christine and The Tree of Life. Weekends, a lot, for me, revolve around food consumption. I ran three miles late last night and had stopped eating ~4PM. Now that it is past 12PM, I have been able to eat. I ate an entire box of Hot Tamales (but actually only ate for flavour and spit out the gummy part–I have a hard time digesting gummy stuff). I also ate some Haribo peaches. For real food, I ate homemade salsa and organic chips and watched Gone Baby Gone. I had never heard of it and found it to be incredibly good. I have this thing where I become super restless and pause stuff a lot and end up taking eight hours to watch anything but Gone Baby Gone, I only paused three times, I think. I took a break after the film was over and put on some shorts to grab the mail and then drove to one of the local supermarkets and bought apples, grapes and a few other vegetables. Then I came back and had some chili and watched Hostiles. Halfway through Hostiles, I switched to grapes. After all of this was done, I had half a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream. And then I had a few more grapes. And then it was 8PM. I don’t consume anything after 8PM. I only consume between the hours of 12PM and 8PM. Tomorrow, I plan to go to Trader Joe’s with a co-worker. It will be her first time there. Right now, I am working on a new manuscript I started only three days ago.

How did you end up releasing with CCM and have you ever met Michael J. Seidlinger in person? Do you smoke cigars?

Grantham: I read that Jonathan Ames book earlier this year because I was excited about the movie. I liked that movie a lot. I liked it better than the book, I think the movie took the book and made it a full thing. If that makes sense. The book felt like the summary on the back of the DVD box for the movie. But I still enjoyed the book.

Michael Seidlinger messaged me on Facebook while I was at work. I was working at a bookstore in New York at the time and I was on my dinner break. We got 30 minute dinner breaks. He asked me if I had a manuscript and I lied and told him that I did and that I’d send it to him within the week. But I guess it wasn’t completely a lie because I had been writing a bunch of poems and many of them were related and I only realized they were a manuscript after he asked me if I had a manuscript. I showed them to my friend Bud, who I was living with at the time, and he helped me figure out what order to arrange them in and then I sent it to Seidlinger and about a week later he said he wanted to publish it. And then a year later it was published. I’ve met Seidlinger a bunch of times, when I lived in New York and at a couple of AWPs. I think the only time I’ve ever smoked a cigar was with him on his roof and I was so shitfaced that it made me sick and it made me not want to smoke a cigar ever again. I don’t know how he smokes so many cigars.

Who do you live with? For some reason, and I don’t know why, I had the impression that you were married. Are you lonely? Can you describe what your living space looks like?

Kleine: I really enjoyed the movie. The risks it took and the things it did. And what you said makes sense, yeah.

I live by myself. That’s not true. I live in a house and it’s divided in two. It has a basement and first floor. And then the house has a second and smaller third floor. I occupy the first floor (and the basement is mine). And then whoever lives above me lives above me. But the way it is setup, when you open the front door of the house, there is another door like right away (we leave that open all the time) and then to the left is another door that goes into my living room and if you go straight (instead of into the door that goes to my living room) there is a staircase that goes upstairs to whatever first room opens up on the second floor.

I am not married, though I was in a long-ish relationship. But it didn’t work out. This ended in mid-2015. Haven’t been seeing anyone since then. I guess, it’s because I am always doing things and I need to make the time to be with someone and I happened to have a ton of projects come up in 2016, at the time (a book and a play) so that kept me busy. But maybe I am just always finding new things because I am afraid to commit? Who knows? Whatever will happen will happen, y’know? Or maybe not. I also live on a fairly busy street so it’s never really that quiet where I live. I am not sure that I am lonely. There are times I would like to have someone that is there and who gets me and who can talk to me (and vice-versa). A lot of my friends I graduated college with, only a handful have gotten married. I only know of like one who has had a baby. The rest, they are in a situation that is similar to min. It’s interesting because the people I went to high school with, basically all of them are married and had a baby like nine years ago. I don’t know, I find that stuff interesting. The people I went to middle school with (this was in Senegal) we just had a meet-up last year in Vegas and only one of them was married. I hadn’t seen these people in like fifteen years! Two of them, who were in Vegas last year just got married this year. But none of them have kids. Actually, two couples who were unable to attend have kids. Three, actually.

My living space is a treadmill and standing desk computer in the living room. There’s a built-in shelf that is overflowing with books. I am always ordering clothes and fragrances online so everything for some reason, right next to the door, always looks like I am either moving in or moving out. There are a ton of boxes everywhere. I just need to flatten them and recycle them. And I do, sometimes. There is a couch in the living room and a television and a Playstation 4. I don’t play games on the Playstation 4. I have it only because my Playstation 3 was stolen in 2016 so I had to replace the Playstation 3 and I use it to watch Blu-Rays and Netflix. I also have an ironing board in the living room and a mouse (glue) trap in one of the four corners (mice seem to always be coming in from the outside for some reason). I also have a lamp and there’s like 40 ties hanging from it at the moment. The living room is also where the Nest thermometer exists. I also have a dehumidifier and I used that thing in June and my electricity bill literally doubled.

In the dining room are two boxes of clothes that I take to Goodwill on a monthly basis. (I re-use the same two boxes and just keep filling them up. It’s not always clothes though, sometimes other stuff). The dining room table has three boxes (I recently placed an order for some of my own books. I’d run out and people have been asking for signed copies). There’s an old MiniDisc mixer I got from a co-worker and my Prophet ’08 is in the corner of the room. I have like 5 guitars lined up against the wall. There is an antique red chair that I never use and I have this tiered standing desk-looking thing that has all my effects pedals for music stuff. There are two microphone stands also.

The kitchen is the kitchen is the kitchen. At the moment, the Roomba lives in there.

My bedroom has a Queen-sized Tuft & Needle mattress (that has not changed my life, like all the reviews online claimed it would). I always have the book I am reading at the moment on the ground near the bed (right now: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King). There is my hamper in the corner and a fan and the air purifier in the other corner. And then a walk-in closet with all my blazers and sport coats, etc. Between the bedroom and bathroom is a hallway with a built-in clothes rack thing so I hang shirts on there. My bathroom was recently remodeled so it gave me the opportunity to add more shirts to the Goodwill box. I just ordered a ton of Hawaiian shirts from Old Navy, like 9, so I am trying a new one each day and returning any I do not like.

The bathroom now has two shower heads. But after that, the bathroom is the bathroom. I only go to the basement to do my laundry. There’s spiders down there and I don’t really enjoy being around and near spiders. There’s also centipede-looking things sometimes.

What kind of clothes do you enjoy wearing, or what do you look like on an average day? Are you hoping writing becomes the way you make money or are you trying to make moves in a more traditional way (or maybe money is not an issue)? Do you ever feel like you can never truly be yourself out in public because there are too many rules?

Grantham: Most of the clothes that I wear were at one point my dad’s clothes. I find this comforting for some reason. If I’m being honest, it’s probably because I’m superstitious and I think it gives me good luck or keeps me safe. But because these clothes were my dad’s at one point, mostly from the 1980s and early ’90s, they’re falling apart or are a little tattered. This makes it sound like my dad is dead but he’s not dead, he’s very much alive. Knock on wood. Right now I’m wearing an old t-shirt of his from City Lights Bookstore. He gave it to me after I started working there (I don’t work there anymore). It’s a good shirt, though, and they don’t make this kind anymore. I also wear a lot of button-up shirts, like flannels or denim shirts. People always ask me, “Aren’t you hot right now?” because they think I wear too much clothing. A girl in college said that for the longest time she used to think I was really fat because of how much clothes I wear and then she saw me leaving a shower and realized that I’m not fat. Or I’m not that fat. It’s hard for me to find pants that I like. I don’t like when they are super tight around my ass. I’m not comfortable with my body. I used to wear ‘skinny’ jeans but now I wear looser jeans because I just think they’re more comfortable. I’m probably a waist size of 32 but I wear a 34 because I like to have the extra breathing room. But I’m often pulling up my pants and I have to wear a belt. I guess I look kind of disheveled a lot of the time and I’ve been told that the first impression I give is that I’m ‘intense’. Or that’s what I’ve been told. But once people talk to me for a little bit, I think that impression wears off.

It’d be nice if I could just write and make money doing so. I’ve gotten more comfortable writing on a regular basis, almost everyday, rather than just whenever I want to and so that makes me wish I didn’t have to have a dumbass job that steals my reading and writing time. I guess for now, and probably forever, I’m just going to have to make money in a more traditional way. A few days ago I started working in a cafe, making coffee and sandwiches, that kind of thing. It’s sort of pleasant, but also still stressful and I’m only in it for the money because I need money because we all need money. It sucks that we need money. I do have this fantasy that something will just happen to me, someone will decide I’m worth a whole lot, something will just be handed to me. A nice book deal, or a well-paying, interesting and exciting job. But that’s not a good way to live because that will probably not happen.

I feel like I’ve been more myself the past couple years. I’ve stopped caring so much, or stopped putting on an act. But I also wonder if maybe this ‘not caring so much’ is just another act that I’m putting on. I do think that living away from a city, and living away from most artists, living kind of in the middle of nowhere, allows me to just focus on making work, to keep my head down, and not think so much about what other writers or artists are doing. But then of course there’s the internet. Still, there’s not much of that indie literature scene bullshit to get caught up in around here. There’s no indie lit clique in Woodland, North Carolina. Or it’s a different kind of bullshit. A different kind of clique. Like, are people going to treat me differently because I don’t go to church around here? And should I get myself a haircut so I don’t stand out so much? Stuff like that.

Where do you work? And where did/do your parents work? And do you ever let works of art kind of define who you are? I feel like I’ve been doing that lately. I’ve been reading a lot of Stephen Dixon novels and stories and I feel like I’ve been letting that describe my personality. Like how a sports fan will do with a sports team. But instead of being a Kansas City Chiefs fan, I’m a Stephen Dixon fan. I think it’s a childish thing to do, but I do it often.

Kleine: I work for a life insurance company as a legal assistant. My father worked for a company that specializes in military aircraft navigation equipment (he passed away in 2010). My mother owned her own convenience store for a while but then did away with that. Then she did custom clothing and alterations, and did away with that.

This is a hard question because people who know me and have read my books will tell people who have not read my books and know me that reading my books is like having a conversation with me. So I would say that it is less that I let a work of art define who I am and more that I will not compromise my voice to write in a certain way, if that makes sense? Up to this point, everything I have written was written the way I wanted to write it. No one came down and said, “We have to remove pages 33 – 67 because they are shit.” But to go more with what you are saying (Stephen Dixon, etc.) no, I don’t read a book and then let it describe my personality, like sports fans do. And the more I think about it, the more bizarre the concept seems to me. I am also, like you, distanced from any sort of art community and the few times I have tried, it just hasn’t worked out. It ends up feeling more like a chore than actually fun. I am better on an individual basis. Like, I have four or five friends I met through writing and we are still friends, but as a whole, like on a group level, I very rarely keep in touch with a group.

When you decided to start a press with your sister, why did you do it? Like, what was the point of it all? If you have ever attended a book reading, describe how you felt and how you feel about book readings in general. If you read something that was written by someone you either know yourself or a friend of a friend and you don’t like it or it is bad, will you tell that person how you really feel or just do the easy thing and vaguely praise it? And how critical are you of other writers’ (more writers who are your peers) work? Do you see it as the more there is out there, the better type of situation or if you read something that is really good, you hold onto that and tell yourself, I need to do better next time, damn.(?)

Grantham: I guess maybe what I meant by letting a work of art “describe my personality” doesn’t really make sense. But I guess what I mean is that I get obsessed with an author for a while and immerse myself in their work and it ends up rubbing off on me, whether I like it or not. Not necessarily in my own writing, I like to think that I have developed/am still developing some kind of genuine voice of my own, but rubs off on the way I think on a day-to-day basis.

Well, my sister, Mikaela, started the press with her friend. They were just going to print my sister’s first book of poems, but after they had fun with that, and had success with that, they decided to open it up for submissions so that they could publish and champion other people’s work, too. Her friend stepped away from the press and I jumped on board. And I guess the point is that we just want to publish books that we want to read and that we believe deserve an audience. Books that take risks with form and storytelling. There’s not really an agenda other than to put out good books and we hope to get some readers for our authors. But goddamn it is hard and sometimes I don’t have the energy to do it, and I definitely put more focus on my writing than on the press. I use a different part of my brain when I’m working on the press.

I used to throw readings when I lived in New York City, in a children’s occupational therapy “play-center”, with trampolines and cushioned walls and bean bags. Those were fun. The readers were always good. I like reading because I like getting a chance to perform. It used to terrify me. Now I just think it’s kinda fun. But sure, they can suck. If someone reads too long or isn’t a good reader, or doesn’t want to be there but is reading anyway. And they can be a big ego-trip. I think you have to go to some though, if you expect anyone to attend when you read. But maybe it’s best to not expect anything ever.

I just try to praise the work that I love from my peers and if I don’t like it or if I think it’s bad, I’ll just keep my mouth shut about it. Or maybe I’ll text a close friend and say, “Wow, I can’t believe people like this book. This book pisses me off. It’s not very good. Fuck this book.” But I don’t think the world needs my negative Goodreads or Amazon reviews. The world doesn’t need any reviews from me. I like what I like and I don’t like what I don’t like and that’s okay. I’ve had friends send me manuscripts to edit for them and I try to be as critical as possible with those. Luckily, I seem to have been lucky enough to surround myself with friends whose work I truly love. Maybe that’s why these people became my friends in the first place, because I was a fan of their work. I can’t think of any friends of mine whose work I can’t stand or secretly hate. But sure, sometimes I read something that a friend wrote and then I read what I’ve been working on and I think, holy shit, what the fuck am I doing, I’ve got to step up my game. But I really don’t think any of this is a competition. It better not be. That wouldn’t make any sense to me.

Why do you keep writing? What’s the point? Do you have an overarching project or goal that you’re working toward? And what’s your relationship with the internet? How much time, roughly, do you spend on a computer each day? Do you have an optimistic view of the internet?

Kleine: I understand better what you meant now. Yes, I would have to say that has happened to me sometimes. Like, while reading Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, I’d never read anything else like it, and for a little bit, I wanted to read everything he ever wrote so I bought most of his books (this was like 3 or 4 years ago). I also really get into the artist Patrick Kyle’s work (it really resonates with me for whatever reason). Who else? I guess Jon Leon and the photography of Rinko Kawauchi. It’s not just writing that gets me going. Certain types of music and moments in films, I hear or see these things and immediately, I feel like writing!

Honestly, I didn’t think I’d write another book after my first (Mastodon Farm). But then I’d begin writing bits and pieces out of nowhere and after time, it would all sort of coalesce. I get in these moods where I will write nothing for days or maybe even weeks, and then on a Thursday evening, out of nowhere, I will begin writing until 2AM, nonstop. So in a way, writing for me has become necessary. After I wrote Lonely Men Club, I didn’t really write for 2 or 3 months. And I began to feel restless. Instead of writing, I was focusing on game development. Anyway, I’ve returned to writing, and it feels like I’m home again.

I’ve said this before, and for me, or at least to me, my writing aims to ask questions. All of my books (and even my play(s)) take place in the same universe. Characters reappear and past moments are referenced. If you are in the know, the story becomes even more rich. If not, it doesn’t ruin the story. My characters, I guess, are like people who only read books on what it means to be a person. And they are enacting what they believe it means to be a person. So it’s a little weird, how my characters speak and how they act with each other. It’s like how in DeLillo books, everyone speaks the same (they all sound like philosophers). In my books, people speak in a very candid manner: they say “like” a lot and repeat themselves and sometimes trail off or begin sentences that don’t really end. When I talk to someone who has read my book, they ask questions I would never think to ask about the work and all of this informs whatever I do next. So the discussion that arises from my texts, for me, is the point. Whether it is a discussion with me or with other people, I want this to happen. I was informed that Mastodon Farm is taught in one college in Germany and another in New York and one person cited it in their dissertation at another school; to me, this is like honey.

If there is an overarching project I am working toward, it has not revealed itself to me yet. I just want to be able to write in a manner that is real to me and in effect, becomes an extension of me. When I talk to you in real life, there is so much I want to say that I cannot say because it’s hard to be clever in the moment. But when I get to sit and think and edit forever, I am able to say things in my books I could otherwise never say in real life. If anything, I would say that all of my work, to this point, is a distillation of our place in this universe and trying to make sense of our surroundings when really, we don’t know much of anything.

The internet, I hate to say it, is like my library/bank of information/brain/reference/everything! I lived in France for a year and did not have access to the internet (only 1 hour a day) and it was beautiful. I was reading five times as many books and this is the same time I wrote Mastodon Farm. Now, with the internet, sure, there are great things about it like all the research I am able to do but then it’s also what exhausts me. For the last two months, I’ve watched fewer videos and been on social media less (than I used to) and I use the computer more for writing. And if I am not writing, the computer is shut off. All my life, I have been around computers. My first real present was a computer. By the time we were taking classes on how to learn to type in elementary school, I was already typing without looking at the keyboard.

I use a computer at work all day (I need to, for what I do). So if you couple that with my computer use time at home, I am probably using a computer for 12 -15 hours per day. But that is slowly turning into a smaller number.

I love the internet but no, I do not have an optimistic view. And I use optimistic in the most basic sense of the definition. We are in a dark ages of the internet. We still do not really know what to do with it. There’s the dark net and a bunch of other stuff and most of the general population has no idea what is going on (but that is not what I want to talk about right now). The government is trying to understand all of this–what the internet means– and build cases so it can regulate as much of it as it can (and yes, some stuff should be regulated) but fifty years from this exact date, the internet will be nothing like it is right now. This is akin to when airplanes first came out and we were allowed to smoke on them and do pretty much whatever we wanted. And now look, each year, more and more restrictions are placed on airplanes. The internet is literally the only tool we have at our disposal right now that allows us to do anything we want. And that’s going to change. And people don’t seem to be talking about this. I think it should continue to be used as a tool that allows an individual to not only communicate but educate themselves, but it also does so much that it shouldn’t do. It takes away from spending time outside and talking to people in real life. It stops you from walking around in the store (since you can order anything anywhere now). It creates binge-habits (Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, etc.) and it allows people who don’t have to show their face to say very terrible and hurtful things to people who may be very vulnerable. Hence, this is all a dark ages and bit by bit, it is becoming more and more regulated. So it’s beautiful that we get to witness this but also sad when you think about and realize what is most likely going to happen very soon (within our lifetime at least, I know this).

So you wrote poems and it’s come out as a collection. (Congratulations on the release by the way; respect). What about what’s next? Are you going to write fiction and if so, what is it going to be about? What are topics that are important to you or, what do you hope to impart through your writing? Do you ever fear that using your real name might stop you from being hired somewhere in the future, or is that not something you think about or care about? How do you feel about these writing movements/communities/genres: alt lit, indie lit, bizarro lit, et al. (What does it all mean and why does it exist and what does it do)?

Grantham: I started out writing fiction. Once I decided I wanted to write, I wrote stories. And that’s all. You can find a bunch of my stories online. I never seriously read poetry until a couple years ago, when I got out of college. And then I started writing poems. But I’ve always wanted to write a novel. Because I love reading novels. But they’re harder for me because it’s hard for me to stay interested in something I’m working on for an extended period of time. Or I tend to second guess it and then kill it. The book of poems has a lot of similar themes and characters and pretty much all comes from the same voice, a voice that is similar to mine, if not my very own voice, and so in some ways I think it could be read as a novel that started out as a large piece of glass and then I took a hammer to it and kept hammering it and if you glued it all back together you’d see that it was connected. Okay, I’m pushing it. It’s not a novel. But my favorite books of poetry are ones that make you feel like you’re hanging out with the poet who wrote it. And I hope Tom Sawyer succeeds in this. One example of a book like this is Noah Cicero’s Bipolar Cowboy. 

Lately the “fiction” I’ve been writing has been autobiographical and very close to my reality. I’ve been writing a column over at the Nervous Breakdown about being unemployed in North Carolina and I hope to be able to turn that into a full-length novel. I think that once I write something, even if it actually happened to me, it becomes a fiction. Even though that column is being billed as nonfiction.

I don’t know if I have anything to impart or if I know what topics interest me when I’m writing. But I like what you say about the reader’s questions informing your work. I think my work tends to be clear and simple on the page, and I want it to feel like I’m talking to the reader, or like the narrator is talking to the reader. I like reading it aloud to myself, that’s how I figure out if it’s worth anything. Right now I’m just trying to tell the story of moving across the country to live with a woman I met on the internet, a woman who I then fell in love with, and what it’s like to live with her in this Southern Baptist town of 800 people. I think it’s a wild story.

I don’t worry about using my real name to publish. I own my work and I care about my writing more than I care about whatever job may or may not hire me because of something I’ve written. I can’t worry about that. If I worried about that then I’d have to change my name and I don’t want to change my name and I don’t want to worry about what I write about.

I don’t think much about writing communities or movements anymore. I used to think about ‘alt lit’ when I was in high school, and I still think a lot of those writers are great and some of these people are friends of mine now, but I don’t know, even in high school I always felt like maybe these alt lit writers would hate me, like I’d be too sensitive and emotional and too afraid of drugs for them to take me seriously. I’m glad I grew up with the literature I grew up with, though. But having these labels or categories or genres or communities or whatever, it does make it easier for people to dismiss entire groups of writers, even though the individual writers within these groups may be vastly different and unique and each offering something valuable. So I’ve always hated having to use those labels. But yeah, I think the labels are there because people are lazy.

Is your name Mike Kleine? Do you believe in guilty pleasures? And if so, what are some of your guilty pleasures? What’s something you’ve read or watched or listened to lately that you were surprised you enjoyed? And what’s your sign and do you believe in astrology and all of that? And have you enjoyed this conversation we’ve been having?

Kleine: My name is Mike Kleine but in real life I go by Michael, to most. But my real friends call me Mike. And in college, people would call me Mike Kleine, out loud, like it was a brand or something.

Guilty pleasures are essential to living life, yes. You’re going to laugh. My guilty pleasures are eating cheap candy and drinking dessert wines. And then singing karaoke. I go to the seedy part of town to do this. It’s mostly in-the-moment and then you have nothing to show for it. There’s this other place I go and sing at, this is more out in the open where there are lights, etc. But then you get more of the college students there so the line to sing is longer. This other place I sing at, the seedy part, I am usually the youngest person there and if you go on a Wednesday, sometimes you can sing five or six times in a single night. I’ve taken some co-workers there but it really only works if they are also into it. Like watching a bad film and knowing it is going to be bad. You have to know you are going to a questionable part of town to sing karaoke and no one is judging you and it’s not about acting cool. Like in the show, Westworld, people log in to this virtual world to do things they normally would not do in real life. When I am singing karaoke, this is how I feel. I go up there and sing songs because they do something to me and no one can take that away from me for those three minute s(or whatever) that I am up there. I don’t even make eye contact with anyone when I am singing. It’s not a show. I really am just singing for myself. 9 times out of 10, I just go alone too. People recognize me when I show up now. Maybe they think it’s weird that I usually go by myself? Most people go in groups or at least with someone else. When a new movie comes out, I’ll go to the theater by myself. I don’t normally eat at restaurants by myself tho.

Just this evening, I was putting together some furniture while listening to the new album by Fenster, it’s called The Room. I didn’t know what I was going to think of it but I loved it. It sounds unlike anything that is being recorded right now. It sounds pleasantly retro in a non-hipster way. I am also reading Doctor Sleep by Stephen King and I usually stray from pop-fiction or anything that is longer than 200 pages but I am really digging the story, for the most part and I am reading more quickly than I usually would. It’s light and it doesn’t require deep thinking and it’s just what I needed, it seems! I did not think I would enjoy the new Mission Impossible. I did, immensely. Game Night was also deeply hilarious. And First Reformed is heavy. Logan Lucky I thought was a good time.

I am a Sagittarius and I do not actually follow anything that has to do with astrology. Do I believe in it? I don’t know enough to make an informed decision, yet. I will say that in moments of duress, I will find myself doing quick prayers. This is out of habit (the school I went to growing up, elementary to middle school was ultra religious). I do believe that there are certain rituals we can perform that allow us to perform and think better; it’s all in our head, most likely, but that is how we function and work.

So far, I have been enjoying this conversation, yes.

The thing with dating is that most people around here that are near my age already have been in a previous relationship with children (which is not a bad thing) but for me it seems like a lot to handle and I don’t know that I can do that. At the same time, I also would like to talk about topics that don’t revolve around sports or what was on the local news or country music (…that sounded bad and came out wrong). As a result, I naturally sequester myself from everyone else. I have tried dating apps but have actually never gone on a single date using them. I find matches but then change my mind about them. This sounds terrible but I also believe I personally have to be in the right state of mind to tackle everything involved with dating. At the same time, secretly, I am hoping I can just meet someone the old-fashioned way and a relationship can begin to develop organically, etc etc.

How long have you been with your girlfriend and was it your idea to move across the country? It doesn’t seem so crazy to me, as I have known other people to do this. What app or website did you meet on, or if it wasn’t either of these, how did you two meet online? Is she a writer or artist? I used to be afraid people would call me out on my writing and say I was a fraud or that I had no idea what I was talking about; I still feel this way sometimes. Do you ever feel this way? I’m also really big into just being myself (online and in real life) and some people, you talk to them for so long (online) and then you meet them and they are totally not the same person; they act a certain way depending on the scenario, etc. How do you feel about these things people do?

Grantham: I’m a Sagittarius too, whatever that means. Maybe it means we are best friends and have a deep understanding of each other.

Ashleigh Bryant Phillips is a writer and she and I have been together for about two months. We’ve known each other for about five months. We met through Instagram, she went on a reading tour with my friend Bud Smith and then he told her about me and she followed me on Instagram and then later Bud told me about her and then we started talking to each other through Instagram and then texting and calling and I was restless in San Francisco after having only lived there for a month. It was just too expensive to live there. So after only talking to Ashleigh for a few weeks, I asked if she needed a roommate in her big ol’ house in Woodland, North Carolina. Of course I thought she was pretty, but I wasn’t moving there to become her boyfriend, I had no idea she’d ever find me attractive. And I was still kind of beat up and hurt from a past relationship. And so I promised myself I wouldn’t try to start anything romantic with Ashleigh. But then I met her in person and after a couple days I realized I was screwed. I fell hard for her. She’s too cool. And I told her. And a month later she finally let me kiss her. And now we’re together. And I still feel lucky and surprised. I’ll stop before America overdoses on all of this lovey-dovey stuff.

I’m often afraid people will call me a fraud. Especially because my writing style is pretty simple, and some of my poems are nothing but a few words or a couple lines. It wouldn’t surprise me if people think I’m ‘phoning it in’ sometimes. The only thing that makes me forget about this, or not worry about this, is that I know I’m never phoning it in, I’m really trying to give something of myself to whatever poem or story I’m working on. I want everything I put out to have some stakes, even if it’s just something funny. Funny matters to me. But some days it’s harder to convince myself that I’m not a fraud than other days.

First off, if I didn’t have ‘things’ to promote, I’d happily delete my Twitter and Instagram and Facebook accounts. I survived fine without them all for a while. And it’s not because I’m better than anyone else, but they just cause me a lot of stress. So, if I had a publicist, or if I was popular enough to not have to remind people who I am and what I do, then I’d delete the fuck out of all this shit. The internet confuses me, and online personas confuse me and sometimes terrify me, but I will say that my personal Twitter account is definitely something other than me. The voice that comes from my Twitter account is more jaded and cynical and snarky and confident than my genuine voice when you meet me in person. But it’s still there in me somewhere. Maybe it’s just an amped up version of ‘Joseph Grantham’. And I’m okay with being a nicer guy in real life than I am on the internet. And I don’t want to be a bully online and I still want to take ownership of what I say online and that’s why it’s still ‘Joseph Grantham’ tweeting things and not a pseudonym, and the profile picture is still a picture of ‘Joseph Grantham’. But I do think it’s important for my own sanity to separate the two identities.

Sometimes I’ll tweet a joke or a thought, and maybe it’s harmless, or I’ll think it’s harmless at the time, and then I’ll quickly delete the tweet because I’ll worry that it goes too far or that there’s a specific person who I think it’ll offend who I don’t want to offend. I’m also ‘white’ and ‘heterosexual’ and ‘male’, and in that way I am privileged and sometimes I forget that I am all of these things and that other people are understandably more vulnerable than I am. I just try to do my best with this stuff. Have you ever been ‘called out’ on the internet for saying something that offended someone? Have you ever ‘called out’ someone else? Do you worry about this kind of stuff? Do you want to have children one day? What’s the most childish thing you do on a regular basis?

Kleine: I guess I am the opposite. Online, I am more nice than in real life. Mostly, because tone gets lost over the internet, you know? I am not saying that I am mean in real life but since we can look at each other and I expect that you can gauge my tone, we can sort of go off of each other’s energy. I am able to read people that way. And sometimes I’ll go too far and push certain people beyond the point that is comfortable for them, but that’s how I have made many of my long-time friends also. Online, especially Twitter, I almost keep it boring. I am trying out new things now and actually starting to say things like I would in real life but, at the same time, much like you said, if it wasn’t because we have to promote products, I could do away with all the social media stuff. I only use Facebook and Twitter actively. Soundcloud too for when I make music, Otherwise, Instagram and Snapchat and all that other stuff? No thanks.

For that reason, I guess, no I have never been called out on the internet for saying something that offended someone. Online arguments do nothing and get nowhere. There is too much time–too many gaps–between responses for things to be resolved in the way they need to be resolved. At the same time, you sad you are white and heterosexual and a male and that kind of forces you to have to take a step back every time you say something, just because of all that. I guess with my name, Kleine, it’s German and unless you have seen a picture of me or read a little about me, you will assume I am a white male. And I don’t ever really discuss or describe myself as a black writer or mixed writer or whatever (my mother is not white and my father is white). In a way, I just want my work to speak for itself as it is. I do not want to use anything as a crutch. And I am not saying that anyone who identifies as something in particular is doing anything wrong; just, all of that is just not me. There are certain topics I wish I could tackle in my writing but I don’t feel I am to a point yet where I fully understand what I am trying to tackle so I stay patient. But with every new book comes a revelation.

I am big into the 1st amendment, as it kind of goes with my real-life persona and back in the day, I was more vigilante of saying (in real life) things that might offend people. But then, I realized that I was censoring myself a lot and not being true to myself. I say a lot of stuff I truly believe that people do not agree with. Sometimes I say it just because I want to have a dialogue with someone and get their point of view, and other times I truly only believe that and your opinion might change mine. it’s not necessarily my fault that I only know as much as I research. What I am after is your life experience and that is golden to me. So anyone I have sat down and talked with for a couple of hours knows that about me. I do not like to restrict myself in what I want to say and we can agree to disagree–I do it all the time. But please don’t stop me because something I said that was not meant to be offensive is considered offensive by someone else because if we start doing that all the time, how can we ever know what we can and cannot say? We can both be on the same level and we can each explain ourselves and talk the way we want to talk and speak the way we would like to speak. We have both been doing that this entire time and look…

In the Midwest, people tend to avoid confrontation. Be it through passive aggressive behavior or just being fake to your face. In college, I invented this thing called Truth Week. Truth Week is kind of abrasive but it gets the job done. An example is my first year, I had said to my roommate at the time I did not want him smoking weed in our room simply because I do not like that. He still did it anyway. I let it go for a bit but then one day, I yelled out TRUTH WEEK and said, “I know you smoke in the room when I am not here so stop doing it!” Mostly, I did it because I was fed up but then after the fact, we all laughed about it, my and my roommate and a couple of our friend and it became a thing so anytime someone wanted to call someone out in front of other people, they would say, TRUTH WEEK and then say what they had to say. See, maybe as I explain this, over the internet, it might sound mean and like a light form of bullying but in real life, it was nothing like that. No one ever was upset long-term because of Truth Week and no friendships were lost because of Truth Week. (I even attended my roommate’s wedding)! So yes, in real life, I have called people out many many times, and I still continue to call people out.

I do worry about offending people on the internet, less because I am afraid to offend and more because I know I will be misunderstood. So the easiest thing to do is to just stay neutral. In real life, I’ll get real with you if we ever meet, but over a public platform, like Twitter, where everyone can read everything, I’ll usually keep it pretty PC.

I do want to have children someday. I think children are neat and I get along with kids a lot because they like my sense of humour and I like that they, for the most part, will listen to what I have to say. It’s cool to feel like what you are saying might actually be able to affect someone in a positive way. The most childish thing I do on a regular basis is eat candy (not everyday tho) and pout/hold grudges. I can hold a grudge for a long time, and it can be over the silliest stuff.

What do you think of video games as a form of storytelling and what do you think of people who spend most of their free time only playing video games? If someone out of nowhere accused you and said you were too laid back and probably didn’t care about what was going on around you and only cared about your writing because that is the easy thing to do and you are able to do all of these things because of your white privilege and probably a trust fund/inheritance, what would you say or how would you respond? People sometimes still talk about how awesome and easy it was to go to school and get a job in the 90s because of the economy and how buying a house was literally just part of the deal. And now, after all of this excess with the housing market collapse and everyone getting 4-year degrees and people with PhDs and Masters working at restaurants and bookstores (and being fine with it, but also not), how do you feel about right now, this entire generation: everyone living in an apartment with multiple roommates, people not having kids until their 30s or late 30s, no one being able to afford to buy a house (all of this, compared to the 90s)? Do you feel this will do something to the next set of kids in the next 50 years or are we going to get out of this funk (if it is a funk?) or does none of it matter and it is all just cyclical?

Grantham: I don’t think much about video games anymore. I used to love playing them growing up, but I no longer own any game systems. My good friend Sam loves video games and when we lived together I’d often watch him play a game or we’d play a game together. Games like Uncharted and The Last of Us, games with involved plots and characters, etc. And Sam said he had more fun when I was around to play the games with him, it wasn’t as fun for him if he just played them alone. In that way, I think video games are cool, that it’s interactive storytelling and can be experienced as a group. And for what they are, without comparing them to anything, I think they are a good thing. They’re art. But I still don’t find as much satisfaction in them as I do in reading books. And if I play video games for a long period of time I often feel depressed or like I’ve wasted my time. I never get this feeling after reading a book for a while. I guess it depends on the game, but I try not to judge people who spend most of their free time playing video games. In my free time I often read or write or listen to podcasts or watch movies and I don’t know that those are more valuable uses of time.

I’d say that, yes, I am privileged and I am what society has determined is ‘white’, but I come from a middle class family. My dad is a high school teacher and my mom works in the propane industry. She sells propane, but not the way that Hank Hill does (I’m still not entirely sure what my mom does). I grew up in a small house. I could jump from the doorway of my room into my parents room and I could reach my foot from the doorway of my room into my sister’s room. I don’t have a trust fund or live off of an inheritance. But I am spoiled with two loving parents and a good sister. They love me and they help me out a lot. They helped me pay for college. I’ve had to borrow money to make rent or pay bills. Not a lot, but some, and it’s never fun having to ask for that kind of help. That’s part of why I don’t live in a big fancy city anymore. I don’t want to have to ask for help like that. So maybe I’d try and explain that. And maybe I’d argue that what I put out into the world is positive compared to what a lot of people do. And that caring about writing isn’t an easy thing to do. Because, the world doesn’t care and the world doesn’t need my writing. If it did, I wouldn’t be working at this coffee shop and washing dishes all day and microwaving eggs. I’d also probably say ‘fuck’.

I feel unsure about this time and I feel unsure about my place in this time. I had about ten existential crises while washing dishes at work the other day. Like, what am I good at? and am i good at anything? and is this what it’s going to be forever? and will I ever have a ‘career’? and do I want a ‘career’? I do want to have kids though. But everything feels like a big mystery to me. I don’t feel like a capitalist. I don’t have a big drive to make money. But I have to make money if I want to have kids and if I want to do nice things for other people and if I want to travel and have fun and all of that. I just don’t know what kind of job I could get that would allow me to do these things and not simultaneously make me want to kill myself. I think it’s weird that it’s normal that the majority of us get jobs that make us want to die and we spend the majority of our lives doing those jobs and we’ve all just accepted it. Like, we all have to pay our dues because here we are alive on this planet. You were born, so you must sacrifice most of your life so that you can enjoy some of your life. I’m tired.

I feel like the state of things right now will definitely affect the next set of kids, but I can’t imagine how. Everything is up in the air and I’m definitely no prophet. I will say that money is something that terrifies me and confuses me on a daily basis. It rarely brings me joy, if ever.

And I guess these will be my last questions:

Do you ever write poetry? And will you please write a poem right now, please? And we’re all going to die, so how do you want to die? Or do you want to live forever? Or can you not bear to think about it?

Kleine: I don’t think anything I have written, up to this point, that people have seen I would classify as poetry. But what is poetry? I am working on something at the moment that I would consider poetry. Or, at least, it’s the closest I would say I’ve come to writing poetry. But I will write a poem right now, only because you asked and I don’t want to disappoint you.



Sometimes I’ll stare at the wall

Until I begin to see shapes

& it’s when the shapes begin

That I too begin



I’ll forget what time it is

And I’ll look at the computer



I’ll say, oh shit oh shit

(Just for dramatic effect)



But honest, for real; at least

I’m doing what I think I want

to do



I ask about vampires a lot

and people think I’m really

into vampires.


But really, it’s not that I’m

into vampires a lot. As a

matter of fact,


Not even that much, at

all. Like, I know about



And Dracula. I’ve even

seen all the Blade movies.

But I ask


About vampires only because

it’s confusing to ask about



Especially when you are not

really even that into




I tried to only do one and ended up with three. Oh well.

I can bear to think about dying. It’s something that is natural to think about. When I was in my teens I did not want to die because I wanted to at least graduate from college and see who I would become. All my life, I have lived in a transient state where I keep telling myself, this is a stepping stone to something else and I really need to stop, I think. I am far along in life now and have done enough things that I think it’d be safe to bask in the “right now” and just say, this is me and who I am. So if I were to die right now, for instance, I think I would be cool with it. I’ve done enough, I think, that I won’t totally be forgotten. I am always afraid of being totally forgotten (or even forgotten about, literally). And I don’t think I will have a choice, in how I die. I will probably die doing something to my body I shouldn’t be doing. Like a 30-day water-only fast. When I go extreme, I can go pretty extreme. I will try odd things to see what it does and how it makes me feel. Over time, I have decided that what is most important to me, is how I feel on the inside and my bowel movements. I know it sounds crazy but I take a long time to eat, especially when I am with friends. I will talk and talk and talk. But also, that’s how I grew up. Meals would typically last 2 -3 hours. Eating was an event. You didn’t just scarf down whatever in five minutes. So I am a little sad, that here, people don’t really enjoy eating like I enjoy eating. I will eat a ton and then I will fast for a little bit. When I was a kid, I would not go no. 2 for a long time unless I was at home. I have this thing with germs. I really dislike touching door handles and feel like whenever I touch a door handle, I can feel everything everyone has touched before they touched that door handle. And it’s like a film on my hand that haunts me forever. Even after I wash my hands. I will either die doing something to my body or stomach or most likely, it will be in my sleep because I ingested the maximum amount of spider legs allowed for human consumption over one lifetime. (See? There I go again with food and consumption). I know you didn’t ask this but would I ever eat a person or human meat? I don’t think so, no. Not at this time in my life (at least).

My final questions:

Is there something you’d like to tell me that you thought about telling me (maybe early on) but then decided not to? Maybe it was a question I asked or an answer I gave and it made you think of this…

Is there anything else about me that you’d like to know that you didn’t ask and if there is, I would like for you to answer that question for me.

Please draw a drawing and don’t explain anything about it.

Grantham: I would like to say that the covers of all of your books fascinate me and make me excited to read them and I would also like to say that the way you talk about your work is exciting and I admire how you seem to have a handle on what it is that your work does and what you want it to do. This makes me trust you as the author of these books.

Also, that’s a crazy coincidence that you mentioned eating/not eating human meat. One of the questions I considered asking you was, if you had to eat another human being, who would you eat? I don’t have a good answer for this so I’m going to steal my girlfriend’s answer which is: Tilda Swinton or Prince.

Another thing I considered asking you was, if you had to pick a book that most accurately gave an impression of who you are as a person and what it’s like to be around you (and it can’t be one of your own books) what book would you choose? And my answer, at least for right now in my life, would probably be Chilly Scenes of Winter by Ann Beattie. A friend of mine was shocked when I told him I hadn’t read that book and he said something like, “Joey, you have to read that book. It’s your whole aesthetic. You’re gonna carry it around with you wherever you go.” (Shoutout to Timothy Willis Sanders for the recommendation). I finally read the book and I was almost embarrassed at how right he was. I won’t say much about it except that almost nothing happens in it (people go to work and they come home and they eat meals and they listen to records and they talk to each other and they are sad but they also laugh) and I was surprised by the ending. And also, for some reason it took me about two months to read this book even though it is only about 300 pages long and I wasn’t reading anything else at the time.

Okay, Mike, it was good talking to you. I feel like it was a healthy thing to do, too. I think if strangers did this more often than the world might be a better place, or we all might have more empathy and understanding for each other. I’ll end on that idealistic note.

Here’s a drawing:


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