My agent called yesterday and read out a glowing New York Times review of my new book, (insert title).
‘Get on a plane,’ he said. ‘Charlie Rose wants you.’ Flash forward to 2018, and I’m being called up on stage by Ryan Gosling and Paul Rudd, stars in the movie adaptation of (insert title). ‘Get up here, Crom,’ says Rudd, ‘every single member of the cast and crew has won an Oscar and it’s all thanks to you and the amazing book you totally found the talent, discipline and focus to write.’ A tuxedoed version of me smiles sheepishly and rises from his chair, shoulders hunched against the deafening applause. Grace Kelly circa 1954 slips her phone number into his back pocket as he passes down the aisle.
None of this ever happened of course. I haven’t written a book. Max Olijnyk has, though, and when it was published in September I felt a surge of pride that was immediately torched by red, hot envy. My friend Max has a book. Where’s my fucking book? Why don’t I have one? WHY? And why am I not friends with Paul Rudd?
Max Olijnyk has written a book. And to make matters worse, it’s good. Please enjoy the interview I reluctantly conducted with Max, the big-shot author of Some Stories.
When/how did you make the decision to write a collection of stories?
I’ve always wanted to write a book, but this year I decided that enough was enough and I had to do it. There were a few factors involved – turning 40 was part of it, and moving to New Zealand from Melbourne. Basically, it felt like a good time to do it.
How long did it take to get the final manuscript ready for publishing?
It didn’t take that long really, maybe a couple of months. After we moved to Wellington, I had a look at all the short stories I’d written over the past few years and realised I had nearly enough for a little book. I wrote a few more, cut a few out and shuffled them around until I was happy with it.
Did you agonize over making it perfect?
I became pretty obsessed with it for a while, but it wasn’t exactly agonizing, because it was fun. Tinkering away, playing with stuff so it all made sense together, adding in photos, trying to keep the fun in there. I actually just ordered the third print run of the book and tweaked a few more things.
Was working for The Good Copy and having an excellent understanding of grammar (or at least being around grammar obsessives like Penny Modra) good for your writing, or did it hamper it?
I think I’ve always sort of rebelled against that grammar nerd stuff because I felt like imposing rules on writing just squeezes the magic out of it; but I think a few things soaked into my writing style from working with Penny – stuff about sentence structure and tense that I actually find quite calming to have humming away in the background while I write. Plus, Penny would agree that first and foremost, it is all about harnessing energy and getting that magic down on the page. Good grammar and punctuation just helps it make sense to others.
Are you always on the lookout for incidents in your life that might be good stories, or do you wait for them to present themselves/get your attention naturally?
I suppose I am always hoping that something will happen that sparks an idea for a story, but I’ve learned that it’s sort of mysterious; it’s more about being in the right frame of mind when you sit down to write than having some awesome incident to write about. More often than not, it’s something quite small that sets me off, and bigger things just feel too obvious to write about. A friend of mine took his own life last week and I’ve been trying to write something about that, but I can’t find a way in. That sounds terrible, but I was just trying to do something with it in my head, and it didn’t work. I know when I’m working on something good, though; it comes out really easily and you forget about everything for a while, and you’re just having a great time. Then you can just go back and tinker with it when you sober up.
(Max pivoting to fakie recently. Write a book about it, why don’t ya)
Were you always going to self-publish/how did Freddo books kick off?
Initially I was going to send it to some publishers, but then I realised I may as well just do it myself, especially as it was my first book. I asked my great friend Ed Davis (of Heavytime Books) to design the cover and he nailed it, and then he sent me the Freddo Books logo along with the cover artwork. I think it was his way of telling me to think about doing more stuff. I think he’s actually been trying to do that for a while, and this time it worked.
The first time I saw the book was at the New York Art Book Fair; I had it delivered right there to MoMA ps1 in Queens. So I was in New York with my best mates, holding my first book, at one of the biggest book fairs in the world. It was a really good feeling.
That’s awesome. How’s the response Some Stories been so far?
Since then, I’ve managed to sell through two print runs of the book, just through the book fair, then selling online. I did a launch and a reading at my friend Olivia’s new space Reading Room in Melbourne, and it was really lovely. A few shops are stocking it now, and I’m trying to get it into more places. I’d like to thank Molly at Metropolis Bookshop in Melbourne for being my first stockist – she’s helped me a lot.
What’s next in the Freddo catalogue?
I put out a photo book about my trip to America called ‘Out the Window’ but that sold out already. Hopefully I’m going to put out a book with my brother Pij, who is an orangutan keeper at the Adelaide Zoo. He’s been keeping a journal of all the stuff they get up to in there, and it’s really beautiful. There’s a bunch of other stuff in the works but I don’t want to jinx it.
Are you working on a new collection of stories?
I’ve started working on something. I’m not sure what it is exactly, yet. The process of putting this book together made me want to do something more substantial, but still hang onto the energy that up until now I could only harness into these little things – they’re like poems or songs. Part of that was because I was writing them in my spare time in between other writing projects, so maybe by committing some solid time to it, I will relax a bit. Or maybe it will be more of the same – I don’t really know.
Advice to young writers?
Everyone already knows all the stuff about just writing heaps – I’ve become a much better writer over the past decade by working really hard, writing shitloads of stuff on crazy deadlines for no money. I think beyond a certain point that stopped working for me and just got a bit too draining and depressing. One of the best pieces of advice I wish I paid more attention to earlier was: back yourself. Have some confidence in your own work and do something with it, and hopefully it turns out good.
Score a copy of Some Stories here!