LAist Interview: Ed Park, founding editor of The Believer and author of Personal Days
Ed Park is in town this week to read from and sign Personal Days, his funny, frightening & frighteningly spot-on novel about modern-day office life in this time of mergers, acquisitions, and business books full of empty platitudes that encourage workers to "do whatever it takes" and "put the customer first." Employees go missing without reason and a rogue element shakes things up, all while they troubleshoot Excel and navigate tedious office parties. Think Office Space + shades of The Good Shepherd with a dash of Invasion of the Body Snatchers tossed in. Ed will be reading from Personal Days tonight at Book Soup @ 7pm.
You are a founding editor of The Believer magazine – how has the incredible growth and popularity of the magazine changed your writing routine and how do you manage to do both? What is your favorite part of editing the magazine? What are you most looking forward to when you think of the future of The Believer? The balance between being a writer and an editor can sometimes seem hard to maintain, but that's mostly a workflow issue. Editing is, I realize, part of what I do — at The Believer, at the Poetry Foundation website, and formerly at the Village Voice. (Not long after I lost my job at the Voice, I started a newsletter called The New-York Ghost, almost as if I didn't know what to do with myself!) Knowing what I like to read as an editor helps, somehow, when it comes to my own writing. But I also like to keep the writing flourishing in the dark, or under its own eerie fluorescent lighting, a bit wild, untrammeled. Writing is the unconscious, editing is the conscious imposition of structure.
As an editor, I like working with new writers and seasoned ones; seeing an idea through, from pitch to final piece; finding the right angle on a topic, or helping a writer hone the voice. Fifty-plus issues in, I still get excited by the arrival of a new Believer, seeing how the articles and interviews and artwork interact, seeing how the cover has turned out. It's the greatest thing.
You run or contribute in some way to roughly ten blogs or web-only endeavors – including a blog about the Beatles, several about bookish endeavors and daily life, and Astral Weeks, the science fiction column for the LA Times. You are a multi-faceted man! How has blogging altered the way you tap into and share these many interests? Has all this sharing and community engendered still more things you want to blog about that you haven't yet? I'm fascinated by blogging—I enjoy (mostly) the process, the way unexpected connections are forged. I wonder what the point of it all is; I think it's still too soon to know. Blogging isn't writing the way book writing or even article writing is writing; blogs exist to be read on the screen, as the posts go up, nearly in real time—they aren't for the ages, and they can be thrilling precisely for this reason. And the communities we form online can certainly be meaningful and intellectually enriching. I don't know how this will impact my own non-blog writing—part of me is curious to have some sort of seepage (Blog Ed infecting Book Ed), another part wants to shut these two sides off from each other.
Your debut novel, Personal Days, is a darkly comic peek into the ominous world of office life – a life of employees not knowing what they're supposed to do, of wondering when/if they might be fired by unnamed and unknown superiors. You capture this particular brand of cubicle terror so well, it seems highly likely you experienced a bit of this yourself in real life. What cubicle drudgery did you endure?