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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

#51 Tony Hsieh

20 Questions with Mourning Goats
Tony Hsieh

What do you ask one of the most influential businessmen in America? He's not only the CEO of Zappos, he's also investing 350 million dollars in Vegas (www.downtownproject.com) and the paperback of his book Delivering Happiness hits today, March 19th! Hope this interview delivers happiness to you! 

1. What comes to mind when you hear "Mourning Goats?"

Sad sunrises high up on a mountain.

2. Zappos isn't about selling a shoe or a coat, it's about selling a feeling, is that the future? Do you see anyone else truly grabbing on to that belief?

I think almost by definition a brand is a short cut to one or more emotions. The good brands end up mapping to positive emotions.

3. Happiness framework is one of my favorite parts of the book, but can I ask why two of the four start with "perceived" (perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness, and vision/meaning)?

There has been research that has been done that show you don't actually need control, you just need to believe you have control. For example, there was one experiment when participants were subjected to loud, uncomfortable noises for a long period of time, and afterwards they were asked to rate their happiness level. There was another group that was subjected to the same thing, but they had a button in the room they were told they could press in order to stop the noise. Nobody ever pressed the button, but their happiness level was much higher at the end of it because they had perceived control of the situation. For all we know, it could have just been a fake button.

4. I got goosebumps when I read about ROC, can you tell our readers what it is, and how it's different from ROI?

For our DowntownProject.com investments, we don't just focus on short-term ROI (return on investment) goals that most developers focus on. Instead, we think about the long term ROC - "Return On Community" - as a necessary filter that must be passed for every investment we make. In addition to it being a good investment, each investment must also somehow help build community.

5. Making mistakes is encouraged in the book, as long as you learn from them, what was your biggest mistake? What did it teach you?

My biggest mistake was with my previous company LinkExchange, when we didn't know any better to pay attention to company culture, so by the time we got to 100 employees, I myself dreaded getting out of the bed in the morning to go to my own company. For Zappos, I wanted to make sure we didn't make the same mistake again, so company culture has always been important to us from the beginning.

6. PLUR is something that hits home with me in the book. Was this the backbone of your philosophy?

PLUR is an acronym for Peace, Love, Unity, Respect from the days I attended raves. I think an attitude of being accepting and non-judgemental is an important part of our culture at Zappos.

7. I feel like a lot of people would have tapped out after selling a company for $265 million, what drove you for more?

I think probably boredom more than anything else. I enjoy building things that require creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, and being an entrepreneur allows me to do that on an ongoing basis.

8. Boy's Life... do you believe that is where you really got the first taste as an entrepreneur?

Trying to sell greeting cards to neighbors that I bought from the back of Boy's Life magazine when I was a kid was definitely one of the first experiences I had where I learned that not everything is as easy as it seems.

9. As a creative, I tend to struggle with happiness, even in success, what's your advice on getting that delivery?

One of the frameworks I write about in the book is that happiness is about four things:

- Perceived Control
- Perceived Progress
- Connectedness (the number and depth of your relationships)
- Being part of something bigger than yourself that has meaning to you and purpose

Usually when people struggle with happiness it means that at least one of those elements is missing, so I would say try to figure out how to incorporate the missing element(s) into your life and work.

10. When they say, "put your money where your mouth is," they usually don't mean a $350 million investment and transforming a city. What's happening with all of this development in Vegas?

Our goal is to make downtown Vegas the most community-focused large city in the world (in probably the place you would least expect it). We want it to be a place of inspiration, entrepreneurial energy, and learning. We want it to be a place where you have everything you need to live/work/play within walking distance.

You can learn more about DowntownProject.com - or next time you're in Vegas, I'd suggest coming for a Zappos tour as well as a Downtown Project tour!

11. Is pressing the snooze button a good reason to think about what you're doing with your life?


12. I've recently been thinking a lot about brand, can a person, a company, and a location all have the same brand or are they independent of each other?

I think they can be similar in the beginning but eventually each will have its own separate unique facets that will be amplified over time.

13. As a known personality, how hard is it to go out, nowadays? Has celebrity changed any of your views from the beginning?

I don't really get stopped off the street when I go to a random place, it's usually just at certain conferences that I speak at.

14. You've made a lot of references to poker in the past, why is Vegas your "poker table" for Zappos? Why not build up in Kentucky?

With Vegas, everyone eventually comes to visit you. It's hard to say that about very many cities.

15. What's your writing process like? Are you always writing? Outlining? Planning?

For my book, I locked myself up in a cabin for a week (and then two long weekends afterwards) and just cranked stuff out. I would write for an hour or two, take a nap, then repeat over and over again. It was definitely a very strange sleep schedule.

16. In one interview you were asked what question or two you would ask to get a sense of a person, and you said, "what would you say is the biggest misconception that people have of you?" How would you answer it?

I've heard feedback that people think I don't like them because when I first meet people I don't really say anything. It's because I'm just shy and introverted, but for some reason people think I must be thinking bad thoughts about them, which is not the case. 

17. The paperback version of your book is coming out on March 19th, are there plans for other books?

Too early to tell. One of our goals with DowntownProject.com is to come up with a model for community-building and urban revitalization that can be easily replicated to other communities and cities. So instead of focusing on an expensive stadium or sports team or having a Harvard or Stanford, we'd like to show that there's another way. For Downtown Project, we focus on acceleration collisions, community, co-learning, and connectness.

18. Is the Zappos culture book still going strong? How do outsiders get a copy?

Yes, just email ceo@zappos.com with your physical mailing address to get the latest copy.

19. And all of this is going down before you're 40? Big plans for the birthday?

I turn 40 in December. No big plans yet, but I was joking with some friends that I might do a "Pixel Party", in which everyone that comes to the party gets a tattoo with a single pixel (including myself - I don't have any tattoos yet). Maybe it'll turn out not to be a joke.

20. What's next for Tony Hsieh?

I think Zappos and Downtown Project will keep me pretty busy for the next five years. :)

Thank you!

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Monday, March 4, 2013

#50 Craig Wallwork

20 Questions with Mourning Goats
Craig Wallwork

Here's the first in a series of Perfect Edge Books Interviews. Not only did they support the goat and ask to publish our book, but they've grabbed onto some amazing other authors, definitely keep an eye on them, here.

Craig is one of the nicest guys I've met from across the pond and it's a pleasure that he's interview number fifty! I'll let him speak for himself and goat out.

1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"

Aren't goats the personification of the Devil, and isn't the Devil always horny? And Morning Glory, isn't that an euphemism for a man's erection? So is it when a man is feeling a little frisky in the early hours, thus the collective noun is Morning Goats? I have no idea.

2. How's it feel to get all of this attention, all of a sudden? Novel out, in newspapers, all over the web; must be amazing. 

It's great to hear nice things about your work, but I have a tendency to feel awkward around compliments. I tend to use distraction techniques to avoid dealing with them. I'll never get used to the attention for this reason. But I appreciate the praise and kind words people have been giving the novel, but it's still early days yet. The novel has only been out a few weeks and is slowly gathering momentum. This time next year it'll either have vanished off the radar, or I'll be a megalomaniac drinking panther piss and proclaiming myself the new Hemmingway.

3. Speaking of The Sound of Loneliness, did I read that you wrote it years ago? How did it come back from the dead? 

I wrote it about 5 years ago. It took me about 6 to 7 months to write. After the second draft I sent it out to a few independent publishing houses. It got chewed up and spat out by each one. Disheartened, I archived it and wrote another novel. I treat novels like relationships in French New Wave cinema: the first thing you do is find someone else to fuck if the one you're with is no good. That novel became To Die Upon a Kiss and was more universal hated than the early drafts of The Sound of Loneliness. So, you guessed it, I began writing another novel. 5 years had passed by this time, then Richard Thomas mentioned my name to some guy called Phil Jourdan. I didn't know Phil but I had heard of his band Paris and the Hiltons. He sent me an email, told me he was a setting up a publishing press called Perfect Edge Books and wondered if I had anything. To die Upon a Kiss had just been accepted by Snubnose Press and The Sound of Loneliness was the only completed novel still free. Phil read about half of the manuscript and offered me a contract. The only reason that novel is in the world and not deleted is because of Phil Jourdan. For those that hate it, you can blame him.

4. What do you think making a book trailer for the book will do for you? Is it about pulling in the movie audience? Just another form to promote? 

I've heard mixed opinions about book trailers. Some say it can force the reader to establish a prescribed image of the protagonist, or their voice. I was reticent to undertake the process for this reason. I'm not savvy enough to understand if book trailers work or not, but for me, it was just a nice little foray into a forgotten skill set. I used to make films and was an editor for nearly ten years. I'm a frustrated filmmaker and this allowed me a moment of indulgence. Plus, I can't see it harming book sales. Not unless they hate my voice.

5. I loved your question to yourself, "What do you hate about being a writer?" Have any more insights other than advice, doubt, publishing, and whoring? 

We are limited in life by constraints imposed by science, physics and finance. The only limitation a writer has in life is their imagination. Don't abuse that.

6. What's it like working with the goats publisher, Perfect Edge Books? And Snubnose?

Perfect Edge Books are really transparent. They have this cool website which allows you to see every stage of the process, from the contract, all the way through to the production and marketing phase. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of my input, but they’ve been accommodating and made the process as painless as possible. It helps having Phil there too to bounce ideas off. I’ll get these crazy ideas in my head, fire him an email, and soon after he’ll come back with something like, “Are you fucking joking?!” It’s a good relationship. Snubnose has been less transparent, but Brian Lindenmuth has been keeping me informed about things and was kind enough to allow me to work with their graphic designer, Eric Beetner, to help design the cover.

7. Menacing Hedge Magazine? And...go!

I wrote a short story a couple of years ago called Human Tenderloin about fine dining for cannibals. I wasn’t too sure who would take it so I was doing that thing where you search Duotrope for the best markets. I stumbled on this fledging journal called Menacing Hedge. They pitched themselves as "committed to fostering access to emerging and experimental poetry and prose."  I liked their mission statement and artwork and the fact they were giving the authors the option of recording their story in the spoken word. I submitted and the next day the editor-in-chief Kelly Boyker got in touch me with an acceptance. Since then we kept in touch. Last summer Kelly sends me an email asking me if I would be interested in being Menacing Hedge's fiction editor. I thought she’d sent it to the wrong person, but she assured me she hadn't. I’d never done anything like that before so I agreed to edit one edition, mostly to see if I could fit it around work, family life and writing. Turns out I could. I’m now the full time fiction editor, except for the Spring edition. This is being guest edited by the crazy-brilliant writer Amanda Gowin, who is doing such a good job, I’m unsure at this stage if Kelly will want me back. It was always a goal of mine to try and pair fledging, or previously unpublished writers, with more well-established authors. That's why you'll see names like Aimee Bender, Amelia Gray, Stephen Graham Jones, Andrew Kaufman, and the UK writer Adam Marek, alongside unknown writers. And I can tell you this, all of those fledging writers are just as talented as the pro writers.

8. You had two novels come out with different presses very close to each other, how do you feel the two novels differed in how they were published, promoted, etc.? 

To Die Upon a Kiss released by Snubnose Press was supposed to be my debut novel.  It was due for release in the summer of 2012, but was postponed until later in the year.  Brian (the editor) got seriously ill so it was put back again to the beginning of 2013. The whole process has nearly taken a year, and save for the time I was talking with Eric about the cover, it’s mostly been something bubbling in the background, out of my hands. There has been no official promotion yet, but Brian has ties with Spinetingler Magazine so I'm sure it'll feature in there at some stage. I don’t mind that approach. It’s quite nice, and I assumed that was how these things happened.  But with The Sound of Loneliness it was much more involved, and I guess its journey was better mapped out. Dates for the various stages of production were given in advance and you could see the boxes being ticked at each stage. But either method works for me. The hardest part is never the production of the book, it’s getting the contract.  Once that’s done, the rest is gravy.  

9. Do you think it's important to be a part of a writing workshop, or a support group of sorts, being a writer? It's a lonesome career.

Workshops are only good for two things – keeping you writing, and proofreading. They provide a support mechanism for writers who have little to no discipline and are easily distracted. But in terms of feedback, the main problem is you’re allowing writers to critique your writing. If they love it, they’ll be indifferent towards it. If they hate it, it really means they love it but are too fucking envious to say so. Writers are petulant creatures that are too self-absorbed to wilfully engage with their peers about their work. They may throw out a comment or two, but that’s mostly constructed with an air of superiority, which renders the sentiment as an exercise in control management. I maybe wrong, but Poe, Dickens, or Hemmingway weren’t part of any workshops. I certainly know Bukowski was never part of any workshop. They just wrote. They learnt the craft via practice, life lessons and reading as many books as they could get their hands on. Sure, they knew other writers, and I imagine those meetings were just pissing contest disguised as an “intellectual conversation”. For me, the lonely writer is the REAL writer. 

10. Who's your first reader? Is it different for each story/novel/etc.?

As in, who reads the very first draft of anything I write? It is always my wife. She deserves to be sainted for the amount of shit I’ve sent her way. 

11. I don't think I've heard of anyone saying, "I’m a firm believer that you should never allow family and friends to have copies of your work anyway. It’s not healthy." Please explain where this came from. 

It’s the reason tone-deaf people enter X Factor – family and friends lie. Even if they think you can’t write, they will just avoid talking about it, or perhaps word it in a way where the writer can misinterpret the feedback as positive. That I allow my wife to read the first draft of anything is not because I’m expecting approval or plaudits, it’s because I’m a sloppy writer. I rarely proofread and she helps clean up the prose.

12. On Goodreads, you were called a writer's writer, why do you think that is? 

A "writer's writer" is a nice way of saying the only people who will tolerate your prose are writers.  I think it was D.B. Cox who said that about me, right?  He's right. I'm never going to be airport fiction.

13. I love the social media push you're doing right now, do you think it's necessary for today's authors to be their own promoters? 

Any writer out there who thinks writing a book is the only thing they have to do is delusional. The writing part is only 30% of the job. The rest of the 70% is divided into editing, submitting and promotion. In truth, of that 70% I would say 50% is promotion. I know writers who don’t want to entertain that side of things, like it’s dirty, or compromises their integrity or work ethic. Bollocks. You need to do it because everyone else is doing it, and those that are doing well can’t write for shit, but I can guarantee they’ll be the one with the 3-book deal with Random House next year.  You’ve got to get into the bed with the devil in this game, spoon the fucker and whisper sweet nothings into his ear if you want any chance of making it as a writer.

14. Do you think UK writers are different from US writers, or that location when writing dictates output? 

Life experiences naturally bleed out in prose, so I think where you live does influence your writing. The Sound of Loneliness is all about location. It is set in Salford, a rough area of Manchester, and it's about the people there and the things I remember while growing up. Had I grown up in Oxford or some quiet hamlet in Hampshire, then I would never write something as gritty and underbelly as TSoL. So yes, location does has some bearing on your writing. As for who is best, Uk or US?  I don’t know many UK writers. I used to love Jim Crace, especially Being Dead and Quarantine, but his work is not really regional. It’s more literary. Flann O’Brien was the only regional writer that I could say really impressed me, but I can’t remember if he’s southern or northern Ireland. Only if he's from the later will he be classed as a UK writer. A lot of writers who I have liked in the past are from America, but that doesn’t mean the US is better than the UK. In terms of good writing, I think now is a good time for the UK. In acting we’re becoming more prominent in major Hollywood movies, and back in the mid-90s we were the epicentre of the musical revolution with Britpop. Now is the time to shift the pendulum of literature this way for the new breed of Brit-Lit. Just you wait. We're coming.

15. In one interview, you said, "Art allowed me to open doors in my mind that many keep closed." Can you expand on that, what did you mean? How?

I remember being in art college and there was one lesson where the teachers made a construction of chairs, boxes, plants, vases etc, a sort of Jenga tower of domestic furniture smack bang in the middle of the classroom. They told us we had to draw it, but, we couldn’t draw the contours of the chair’s legs, or the sides of the vase, or the outline of the plant’s leaves. Instead, we had to look at the negative space between each shape and draw that. All the negative space, or “gaps” between objects were many and varied. And it was only drawing out those hundreds of tiny rectangles, squares and rhombuses that the full construction came together on the page. That exercise taught me to look at the world differently, to see the gaps formed in life, the little negatives areas of society, and deliver them to the page. That’s all my writing is. I think that’s what I meant.

16. Your short story book, Quintessence of Dust, has an amazing title. What do you dive into in the book? What were you trying to do with it? 

I approached Quintessence of Dust the same way you approach making a mix tape for a friend. I had written upwards of forty short stories by then, most of which had been published. A lot of them were in print, or the magazines were no longer running. It was important for me to try and get a book out that I could use as a introduction to my writing. I’d been talking with Pablo D’Stair, who at the time was creating KUBOA from the ashes of Brown Paper Publishing, and I floated the idea by him. He went for it. As it stands QoD is just some of my favourite short stories. If you’re asking me to pick a favourite, I think the most personal are the first two, Night Holds a Scythe and Railway Architecture, but people always seem to gravitate toward Anal Twine. I think no matter what I do in my career, that damn story will be the only thing I’m remembered for.

17. I love your thought on society trying to get "fixed" instead of embracing their defects as what makes them unique. Do you feel like your writing is a way for you to show the world your uniqueness in an acceptable way? 

Yes. I’m one of those people in the world who, given a chance, people would like to fix. I’m broken. I’m flawed. But in some ways, I’m okay with that, and this is why I write about characters that are on the fringe of society, who are not accepted among their peers and who, better or worse, are broken to the point that no amount of glue will fix them. To be honest, I find perfect boring. I’d much rather read about a person who sees the world slightly askew than one whose vision is tinted rose coloured. 

18. What's your writing schedule like? Are you an every day writer? 

I can’t do that. I’ve heard some writers say you have to sit in front of the computer and just write. How depressing a concept. No, for me I have to have a little idea that, over time, germinates into something worthy of sitting in front of the laptop for. Time is a commodity people should use more wisely. I have family, and I need to balance my life as a father and husband along with being a work colleague and a writer. I’m fucked if I’m going to sit in a room staring at a blinking cursor because the allotment of my imagination is cultivating weeds.

19. Who are you reading, these days?

I don’t read that much these days. I used to read a lot, maybe two or three books a week at one stage, but I find most modern literature dull. the books these days lack any real heart or guts. I have come off two decent reads, Nod by Adrian Barnes which is the novel Palahniuk should have written ten years ago, and Twilight by William Gay. I’d been compared to Gay and I wanted to see if there was any truth in the association. Turns out Gay shits on my prose. 

20. What's next for Craig Wallwork? 

Rest my fingers. It’s been a hell of an interview.  

Thank you! 

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