Matt Maranian is the author of L.A. Bizarro: The Insider’s Guide to the Obscure, The Absurd, and the Perverse in Los Angeles; PAD: The Guide to Ultra-Living – both of which were Los Angeles Times bestsellers – and PAD Parties: The Guide to Ultra-Entertaining. He has been published in Harper’s, Wired, British Esquire, and the Los Angeles Reader, and has appeared on the Discovery Channel, HGTV, the DIY Network, and several NPR programs. His design features have been published in ReadyMade magazine, Budget Living, Make, The Washington Post, and Craft. His satirical DIY column, "Maker Mayhem: Low Moments in How-To History" appears regularly on the tech and culture blog Boing Boing. He is a contributor for Wink Books, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the Vermont Performance Lab.
Matt Maranian! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?
No — I sometimes agree to work for very little depending on the project, but I don’t have the time to work for free. I did when I first started, which I didn’t have any problem with at all, but I always tried to choose those outlets carefully because I wanted them to lead somewhere. I will also work for non-traditional forms of payment; I don’t mean sex, I mean things like art, excellent fried chicken, clothing by Rick Owens, or access to a comfortable guest bedroom in a New York apartment when I come to the city. And I would do almost anything for a 1982 Corvette. Anything.
Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?
It has at times, but not consistently, because I’ve never worked as a writer consistently, because I’m sort of lazy and easily distracted. But I wouldn’t have the life that I do without the publishing work I’ve had to cover many of its costs. My third book paid for the roof on my house, for example, and I’m hoping the project I’m trying to cook up at the moment comes through for me, ‘cause baby needs a kitchen remodel and I really want a Leibherr refrigerator.
If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, does it leave you enough time to write?
I also own a business, which involves some writing too, and I do feel I have enough time to write outside of that. The question, of course, is how wisely I make use of that time. I live deep in the woods, and contrary to what people might think, the woods can be very distracting. There’s always something extraordinary happening outside and there’s lots of action. I just saw a whole big to-do between a mammoth doe, a days-old fawn, and two feisty coyotes. The fawn didn’t get ripped limb from limb and actually managed to get away, but all hell broke loose for a while there, and it was riveting. Who can write when shit like that is happening right outside your window? And also I’m married, and when you’re married you just can’t ditch your wife all the time to write, it’s not fair. She gives me enough time though — sometimes very gladly.
How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?
I’d like to think I’m a pretty good judge of when something’s not working, which certainly doesn’t mean that I think everything I’ve had published is great, it just means that I know what’s wrong with it. If I need a second opinion, I have a handful of very talented and brutally honest friends who I’ll pass things around to for input, if they have any. And if it’s really, truly not working, an editor will tell me so, if they’re any good. But I’ve also always believed that no one ever really reads anything I write, so I don’t worry about it too much in general. I think I’ve convinced myself of this as a self-defense mechanism.
When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?
Sometimes I just know in my gut when it’s time to stop, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s as good as it can ever get, it just means it’s as good as I can get it at that time in my life. Deadlines help. I’m serious about meeting deadlines. At some point you just have to know when to call it complete because you can get on a jag reworking something forever.
Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?
Definitely not a calling. My calling is lying around in bed doing nothing until almost noon every day — that’s what I feel I was truly put on this earth to do. Writing was always more like a fantasy, and then I sort of fell into some opportunities. I don’t know what to call that. Luck? Misfortune?
BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?
It’s a toss-up between Helter Skelter and The Joy of Sex. I don’t remember exactly how old I was—definitely too young for a sexual guidebook—but The Joy of Sex made sex look very unjoyful to me. Keep in mind this was the 1970’s edition; I think the pictures are better now. And I wouldn’t say it’s “haunted” me…but come to think of it, I’ve never opened that book again, even though I’ve had many opportunities to do so. It never kept me from acting out sexually at a young age, however. Helter Skelter just scared the living shit out of me. I found a dog-eared paperback copy in a cabin on a camping trip when I was in elementary school and read it at night by flashlight, which is possibly the only way you could make Helter Skelter even more terrifying than it already is. I was sure that a bunch of dirty hippies were going to cut me up and paint with my blood on the walls of our cabin. That book still haunts me, and rightfully so. I actually know someone who was friends with all the murder victims and he was invited to hang with them at the house that night, but it didn’t work out and he couldn’t make it over, and then saw the next day in the news that all his friends had been killed. He was Elvis’ hairdresser and a beat poet, a very cool man.