Cobalt: First off, let me apologize for the delay in getting this interview started. However, it’s my understanding that the greatest thrill is in the waiting. How has the wait been for you?
Justin Sirois: Gripping, really. Haven’t slept since I first met you on the street a few months back. I’ve saved so much for this particular interview. I hope you don’t let all of us down. Take us away.
Cobalt: KidnApp (the fictional – right? – cell phone app that lets a user put in requests to be kidnapped which you created for your most recent work So Say the Waiters). WTF?
Sirois: Pretty messed up, right? It’s been hilarious creating a social network and subculture from scratch. So yeah, to explain the app, users (nicknamed Waiters) download kidnApp, create a profile, and then submit their own tailor made kidnAppings. Within 48 hours, a Taker comes to get them. A lot of the tension in the novel revolves around the waiting—the time between takes.
In the series, most of the users of kidnApp never submit a take; they use the app to follow and comment on Waiters and Takers. So most of the users are voyeurs who drive the more invested users (Waiters) to get more followers and comments.
How would you like to be taken?
Cobalt: My most recent submission to kidnApp, which hasn’t yet been fulfilled, is to be taken for six hours, strapped to one of those medieval stretching devices, and have So Say the Waiters, Volume 2 read to me a day before it’s released to the public. That said, would you consider yourself a waiter or a taker? Will we be seeing some form of kidnApp on our iPhones any time soon?
Sirois: I’d be happier as a Taker, for sure. It seems like a lot more fun to chose an alias and create a Taker identity. But sometimes getting away from my day-to-day would be nice as well. At least I wouldn’t be pressured to write any more of this endless story.
I’d love to see kidnApp as a real app or maybe just a cool promo for the series. I think the interest is there. A lot of readers ask me if the app is real or where they can download it—I guess that speaks to the reality of the story.
Cobalt: Tell us a little bit about the use of “episodes” in So Say the Waiters. The first volume is Episodes 1-5, and you’re currently working on Volume 2. Go on.
Sirois: I wrote the series much like a TV show. Each book is broken up into 4 or 5 episodes that are about 70-80 pages each. In my mind, they’re about 45 minutes long (screen time). Lots of action and dialogue. I’ve encouraged people to download them on their smart phones and tablets in eBooks or episodes. I love the idea of readers experiencing this series on an app like Kindle because it’s about apps and social media. Meta, right?
Reading the book in the traditional print or full eBook doesn’t detract from the experience at all.
Cobalt: You make an interesting point regarding traditional versus eBook reading. Many authors consider eBooks to be a necessary evil, though you seemingly embrace the market. Do you feel there is a particular difference in eBook publishing? If so, what advantages could an author find in it?
Sirois: eBooks are much easier to distribute, I’ve found. It’s helpful that I can email a PDF of the first episode to people for free. Once they’ve read that, readers typically download at least the next 2 episodes to see what happens. As long as people are reading and enjoying literature, I really don’t care what delivery system they’re using. I’ll still love physical books, though.
It’s also nice having little to no overhead with a self-published title. That’s an obvious financial benefit to ePublishing.
Cobalt: So Say the Waiters was self-published and has seen a good deal of success. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of self-publishing this book?
Sirois: Not really. That part is boring. I will say that it’s been a little tough getting strangers to read the first novel, but people are slowly coming around. Locals are really keen to it, as the series is very Baltimore, but the themes and characters are very universal. So yeah, not having the support of a great indie press is tough. Doing it alone is always harder. I don’t regret it at all, though—I’ve made more money off this project than all my others combined, and it’s only been a few months.
Cobalt: You’ve also published Falcons on the Floor and MLKNG SCKLS with Publishing Genius, who we recently enjoyed interviewing for the Publisher Series. How did working with PG differ from publishing the work on your own? How was it similar? Were there any particular experiences you had in publishing Falcons that helped you in self-publishing Waiters?
Sirois: Full disclosure, Adam Robinson edited So Say the Waiters. The two experiences were very similar. Adam’s a brilliant person and a lot of fun to work with. I’d be a little lost without his expertise.
Cobalt: You’ve had all kinds of things going, even before Waiters hit the shelves. A lot of your experiences in Baltimore as a bartender and party promoter made it into the series. Talk to me about Taxidermy Lodge? What pushed you to start this eclectic dance party; and how has TaxLo influenced your work since?
Sirois: It took me a while to figure out how to talk about my life in my early 20s, after college, bartending at rock clubs and hosting regular dance parties. It was how I made my money for years. And it was a crazy time in my life—friends died and went to jail. Taxidermy Lodge started as a small dance party on a Monday night and blew up to be a massive weekly (for a while twice weekly) party. I had the help of some brilliant DJs—primarily Cullen Stalin and Simon the Phoenix—who ended up carrying the torch for a long while after I retired.
So all the stuff that Dani (one of the main characters in Waiters) goes through is first-hand from my experiences. She works at the bar/club that I worked at, which is closed now. Her Baltimore is my Baltimore. It’s been really important to me to respect the city’s creative scenes in the series, especially the scenes that go unnoticed in literature.
Cobalt: Other than Waiters, do you have any other current projects going?
Sirois: Haneen Alshujairy helped me edit a follow-up to Falcons on the Floor, but it’s a bit rough. I had a marine friend of mine read it and I’ll have to go back to the manuscript to edit a bunch. I’m not sure when that will happen.
Newlights Press is also publishing a full-length book of poems of mine called The Heads of My Family, My Friends, My Colleagues. Aaron Cohick of Newlights makes amazing letter-pressed and handmade books/art objects so I couldn’t be happier to see how it turns out.
About Justin: Justin Sirois is a writer living in Baltimore, Maryland. His books include So Say the Waiters, Secondary Sound, MLKNG SCKLS, and Falcons on the Floor written with Iraqi refugee Haneen Alshujairy. Justin has received four individual Maryland State Art Council grants and a Baker “b” grant in 2011. His work has appeared in The Collagist, Dark Sky Magazine, Nano Fiction, and Consequence Magazine among others.