Davy Rothbart might be best known for creating Found Magazine (this shit makes me laugh every time):
but he's also a kick ass writer. His story collection The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas is one of Dogzplot editor Barry Graham's favorites (mine, too), which is why I decided to interview Davy about it:

EE: The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas was published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, in 2005 but you self-published it in 2002 with 21 Balloons. How did you make the decision to self-publish initially? Had you tried finding a publisher/agent/etc first, or did you go directly to self-publishing?

DR: I hadn't even realized i'd written a book! i was telling my friend paul hornschemeier in chicago that on a Found tour i was gonna pass out photocopies of a few of my stories. he said, "hmm, can you send me the files? i want to read 'em." i sent him the files for 5 stories, and the next thing i knew he'd designed this beautiful, amazing-looking book! without even asking me! so we hooked up with chris young at west-can in winnipeg and had 5,000 copies printed for an extremely reasonable price. i remember seeing the books for the first time - what a rush! i had a box shipped to my brother mike's house in madison, wisconsin because i was headed there on tour. he brought them to the bar where we met, and the waitress was admiring how dope they looked. she asked if she could buy 3 copies! what a crazy and glorious feeling it was when we left the bar, seeing the big bouncer at the door perched on a stool, reading my book. i still maintain that 80% of the copies we sold were due to paul's exquisite book design and cover.

EE: How many copies did you sell with 21 Balloons?

DR: over about 18 months we sold all 5,000. maybe half on Found tour, and the other half at the maybe 20 indie bookstores who were carrying it. skylight books in LA sold 500 copies! literally, darin klein and kevin awakuni over there, here's what they'd do-- if someone came up and bought a stack of books, they'd slip The Lone Surfer in their bag as well and charge 'em the 8 bucks! it's one thing to 'suggest' a book or 'recommend' that shit -- it's another to charge 'em and send the book out the door in their hands! that's why those guys is my homeys for life. that's support.

EE: Would you recommend self-publishing for other writers, either starting out or producing works that aren't seen as commercially viable by most of the larger publishing companies?

DR: absolutely. you don't need to wait for someone else's permission to have a book. you can print your own -- just do your best to make it the most beautiful-looking object possible. and check the grammar, spelling, punctuation 90 times. i feel that having a great-looking book (with decent writing too) makes for an easier leap of the imagination for mainstream publishers who might want to get on board with it than sending them files or giving them some Xeroxed-type shit. self-publishing is a great way to start (and continue... and finish), no shame in your game.

EE: How long did you spend writing the stories in The Lone Surfer? Did you write them while at the University of Michigan?

DR: i wrote one of those suckers "First Snow" in 1998. the other stories i wrote in about 4 months in 2000 when i lived in new mexico and focused only on writing. i graduated U-M in '96, and while i wrote a ton in school and had awesome, kick-ass teachers, but the stuff i wrote then wasn't really that hot, though i still have a certain fondness for some of it.

EE: Did you earn an M.F.A. there? What are your thoughts on M.F.A.'s?

DR: i didnt get an MFA, just went to undergrad. i think MFAs are cool. im jealous of my friends who are in MFA programs. i wish i was in one. i think it's a blessed gift to yourself to say "i am just gonna focus on writing for 2 years." and to be there and do that. maybe i will one day. having deadlines and someone waiting to read what you've written is a huge motivator.

EE: The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas is an amazing title. How did you come up with it? And did you think of it first and then write the story? 

DR: A few years ago, I was driving on a small two-lane highway through rural Kansas when I saw a bizarre and riveting sight—-a teenage kid had slung a surfboard between two dead tractors in the middle of a cornfield and was balanced on top, like he was practicing how to surf. Here he was, thousands of miles from either coast, the sun setting in glorious colors behind him—-I was mesmerized and sat there watching for ten minutes or so, and then I drove away; I don’t think he even saw me. But that image of him surfing in the cornfields stuck with me, and my curiosity about him kept growing more intense, so finally I decided to write a story about him, imagining what his life was like and what might have happened had our paths intersected. I called the story The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas (Montana is the name of the tiny town in Kansas where I saw him) and it ended up as the title story of the book.

EE: The stories are written in first person and some are set in places like Chicago and Ann Arbor, cities in which you've lived…You must then get asked frequently (and I'm asking again now cuz Barry's makin' me), how much of the stories are taken from your actual life and how much from imagination and does it/should it matter?

DR: Half of what happens in the stories is real; the other half might very well have happened.

EE: Probably my favorite story in the collection is "A Black Dog," which is set in Chicago, where you lived for a few years, and is about a dude who's been working as a ticket scalper, which you did. How important would you say setting is in a story? Now that I'm thinking about it, setting seems to be an important factor in all your stories…

DR: That story is the one based most fully on my actual experiences. every thing that happens in that story is exactly what really happened. me and that girl nicole are still dear friends. she's married (not to the dude she was engaged to in the story) and has 2 kids now but we talk all the time...

EE: I'm fascinated by the time you spent working as a ticket scalper. At what point in your life was this? Before/after U of M? Before/after writing The Lone Surfer? How exactly did you fall into this line of work? Were you writing at that time as well? 

DR: My dad got me scalping with him at U-M football and basketball games when I was like 6, and i've just always done it since then. usually just here and there, but in chicago i did it full-time for about 4 years, during the michael jordan era and the bulls dynasty. a lucrative time to be in the biz! i'm mostly retired from it now, but i went to a football game with my dad a few weeks ago, and was just trying to buy tickets for me and him, but somehow ended up flipping a few seats and making 100 bucks in like 15 minutes. made me miss the racket. i want to write a novel about scalpers one day.

EE: Two of the stories in the collection - "First Snow" and "How I Got Here" - concern prisoners. I think you mentioned once having worked in prisons in the past? Teaching writing? How did that influence you and your writing? 

DR: I've taught at 2 prisons and this has been one of the biggest influences on me in my life. it's really interesting to work with people who are not trained writers and see the magical ways they use language to such unsual, exquisite effect. so prison life has also worked its way into some of my stories.

EE: Where is writing on your list of priorities currently? Do you have any desire to write more stories or are you focused on a novel?

DR: for the first time in years, writing is #1 again. i've been doing Found Magazine, this american life stuff, and learning how to make movies, but now i am writing a book of personal essays, inspired by people like jim carroll, david sedaris, jonathan ames. i am working with sean mcdonald at riverhead and i have deadlines every 10 days. i have not written this intensively since college (over 13 years) and it is relentless but i am getting some writing done. nothing very good yet, but i trust if i keep writing, something decent will come.

EE: You tour for Found magazine a few months every year. Do you write at all when you're on the road? Or does the sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle get in the way?


DR: yes, on the kind of tours we do which are like 57 cities in 62 says it's pretty much impossible to do any writing. but i also plan to write a book at some point about the experiences we've had on the road, because that shit's been crazy!

EE: Do you find much time for reading? What are some of the books that inspired you initially and what are books that have inspired you more recently?

DR: i love jim carroll's "forced entries." i love dean bakopoulos' book "don't come back from the moon." i loved jacob slichter's book "so you wanna be a rock and roll star." miranda july's new book is super legit. loved it. i LOVE this guy named poe ballantine who writes for the wonderful magazine The Sun. mostly i read books by friends and acquaintances of mine, plus i read a ton of magazines and pretty much every article that makes it onto i wish i had more time to read, though.

EE: Travel seems to be a constant theme in your life. You're on the road a large part of every year, many of your stories are about people on the road or in transit, and you named your publishing company after a children's book (The 21 Balloons) about travel…why do you think the draw of the road is for you and is it diminishing or increasing? Do you get restless when you're not on the road? 

DR: i love the rush of new experiences and meeting new people of all kinds. i love the American landscape. i even love just plain driving. it's also nice to be home in one spot for a while and get a chance to kick it with the homeys and cool out for a minute, but one fun thing about traveling so much is making friends everywhere and then getting to visit them. i sometimes am eager to get home but then quickly get restless to hit the road again.


EE: So it says in your book bio you are, among other things (This American Life contributor, documentary film maker, blah, blah, blah...), a rapper. My daughter's current dream is to go on the MTV show Made and be made a rapper. Maybe you could help her out. Who are your favorite living and dead rappers? And if you were making us a mix tape, what songs would you put on it? (I guess that's sorta the same question, huh? Feel free to answer once.)

DR: here's a few favorites rappers/ groups just off the top of my head, i could really go for hours... EPMD, Nine, Petey Pablo, Public Enemy, Too $hort, Twista, Classified, Buff-1, Ice Cube, Lil' Wayne, Boogie Down Productions, Now On, Athletic Mic League, Atmosphere, Why?

here's a few great tracks off the top of my mind:

dilated peoples "when worst comes to worst"
Nine "whatcha want"
drake "fear" - just heard this and am diggin it.
mc eiht -- "streiht up menace" (eliz, these are spelled correctly)
masta ace "born to roll"
buff-1 "big thangs"
public enemy "get the fuck outta dodge"
i love geographically-specific rappers like petey pablo from north carolina who talk in novelistic detail about the place where they're from. for all the haters, listen to ALL of "diary of a sinner: 1st entry", especially the last few tracks - that shit gets deep!
classified - from halifax, nova scotia - is also amazing.

EE: Okay, last question. I gotta ask, Davy. The Lone Surfer is dedicated to eleven chicks. Dude, wtf?

DR: i know, only 11, right? it's been 5 years since then, so i'm sure there's a few to add. i guess that's for the next book. seriously, those are all people that mean a lot to me and that i've got eternal love for. that's who i wrote the book for. loving them and longing for them is what inspired those stories, so it was only fair to dedicate the book to them.

Amen to that!