After months of dedicated badgering, The Protagonist finally tracked down the elusive Mike Kleine, also known as DJ Fancy Mike, to discuss his 2012 novella Mastodon Farm.
We began our conversation over Facebook chat, which is possibly the only appropriate vehicle for a talk about a literary endeavor which has been called by Goodreads critics equal parts Samuel Beckett, Bret Easton Ellis and Tao Lin.
To provide a flavor of the novella, which is narrated in the second person, Kleine offers the following: “The VHS market is still alive…Uma Thurman wears Spanx…A man named Bruce Willis is really not Bruce Willis.” The protagonist (you) is also enamored with James Franco, despite avoiding him throughout the book, but Ryan Gosling is your arch-nemesis. I struggle to know whether this “plot line” demands psychoanalyzing or not. After all, whose mind would I be probing for explanation?
Kleine, who graduated from college in 2011, says writing a novella was the furthest thing from his mind at that time nearly two years ago. “I was more interested in drinking and eating in the dining hall,” he says.
I ask Kleine to talk about what happened next—had he gone to Berlin to become a DJ, I inquire, half-jokingly?
“DJ in Berlin, f*** you,” is his reply.
In reality, Kleine spent the year after college teaching high school English in the south of France. It was during this time Mastodon Farm was conceived then rewritten piecemeal approximately 87 times, according to Kleine.
“I only got one hour of internet a day and needed to pass the time at night after I was done preparing lessons,” he says.
So what exactly is Mastodon Farm? For one, Kleine is quick to tell you it’s a novella, not a book.
“I think it is a reference to how people try and sometimes make meaning out of nothing/everything,” says Kleine. “It’s a book that is heavy on pop culture, references and tautology: the idea of repetition. Saying the same thing, again and again, but in a different way. And this is how we speak, normally, most of the time…If you go outside and record some people having a conversation—you will hear that a lot of the time, they will repeat what the other person just said. I try and emulate this kind of interaction in Mastodon Farm.”
“And nobody will ever know this unless I say it but Mastodon Farm is a musical,” he adds.
Hold on though–it might not be the kind of rollicking, carefree picture of fun “musical” conjures—as Kleine explains: “The main character (you) never smiles.”
He says the story is grounded in reality, replete with pop culture references some of which themselves may not be so “real,” though nothing truly “strange” happens in the novella, according to Kleine. It’s like the uncanny valley with all parts equally interchangeable. He says the book unfolds like a spool of yarn unraveling, which frankly seems too cohesive an image for what sounds like one frenetic, feverish dream sequence after another (the benefit of which being you can step away at any moment rather than succumb to illness).
Even though Mastodon Farm was just released last year, it’s clear Kleine has spent a good deal of time thinking about what all this means, even if we haven’t yet fully unraveled the yarn.
“There is a lot of stuff that just sort of poured out of me, unintentionally, from the subconscious-like,” he says. “Which is very interesting because yes, the book, in a way, is a sort of extension of myself, the sort of person I am, and a reflection of the things I think, but, if I have something like a murder take place in the book, does that mean I am a murderer, or someone who has murderous thoughts?”
Mastodon Farm was promoted on Facebook and YouTube by Kleine himself, and on Goodreads by his publisher at Atlatl Press. Before the novella’s release, Kleine sent digital copies to reviewers to garner some hype.
So who should read Mastodon Farm? Who can reap something from its unorthodox process and presence? And in the age of pseudo-celebrities like Tao Lin—or last week’s Mark Baumer—is Kleine’s process really so unorthodox at all?
Kleine says he has enough copies of Mastodon Farm sitting around to regularly give them away as gifts, but he makes sure those gifts are never opened in front of him. He notes his parents have never read the novella all the way through.
He explains: “Mastodon Farm is a book for people who don’t want/like to read books. It’s for people who prefer to watch films and television. For people who enjoy something that is a little out-of-the-ordinary and not completely sincere. Something they will remember in the long run. Something that is sad in a not-sad way.”
While writing in France, Kleine also found time to unleash his alternate identity and occasionally perform as Fancy Mike. (His album MARY B JAMES ALBUM, which came out in October, was named #6 bass album of 2012 by KMAG, “whatever all that means,” says Kleine.)
It seems Kleine’s eccentric, potentially quixotic lifestyle may itself be great fodder for a Kleine-ian novella. These days, Kleine, who recently left his position as an electronic sales associate at Walmart, is soon to become a practicing optician.
“In Iowa, you don’t need an optician license to be, well, an optician,” explains Kleine.
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