Once in New York City I broke up the scent of dreams. Just on the nape where hairs start and in this order: a light bouquet of urban charcoal, small grains of curry, the coarsest sea salt, cinnamon, ginger and hints of vanilla flavored icing sugar. Yes, more than anything else I dealt with a sweet scent. Persistent and breakable in one thing, it is unequivocal.
Here, on any Slow Words page, we nurture any kind of dreams especially those accurately brought up that you can hear it loud even if from afar that they are all very well wished. Dreams aiming to be discovered, to be loved. Also a bit searched of.
This interview is different from the others I collected in these years because Galen DeKemper – either the subject and the producer of a collective dream (the very written fanzine under the title One Dollar Stories) – allowed me to read across him in multiple ways aside the usual path of a conversation.
One of these ways is pretty unique because is very literary. I accompanied for 20 days all my trips in his elected city with a few One Dollar Stories written by him (Up for Grabs, One Day Stand, Two Dollar Dances, On Leave, Apple Juice, Miami Advice) and those of other writers he selected (Josh by Christina Drill, Francine by Sonia Beyda, Dogs of the City by Sarahana Shresta, It’s Impossible for Me to Make Imaginary Love to You, Because Even When I beat Off It Seems Too Good to Be True by Seneca Garcia, Another Doughnut Story by Peter Cavanaugh this first edition from 2012 has a bigger format than the others which can be easily hosted in a pocket of your jeans).
One is read during a longer trip and/or one is read in two days if the trips were shorter – let’s say from/to Brooklyn to Manhattan, ways below the 50th.
Your life in a few words, starting from your childhood
Oh, yes. I’m 31 years old. I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. I then moved 30 miles south from my parents, in Franklin. I have a younger – two and half years less – brother, Tyler.
I moved to New York when I was 18 and by that point I was already in skateboarding, reading and writing. I wanted to come in NYC for skateboarding and the literature: I went to NYU and studied English and creative writing. The classes were good. I made lots of my friends via skateboarding, I stayed here after graduating. I hurt my knees skating maybe six years ago and had to get back to Indiana to get surgery. I did that, got better and planned to come back here again, I did. And when I moved back there, I was living in Queens then I had to move and found this apartment in Chinatown 2 and a half years ago. It is small and quiet, I like it and plan to stay there for a while.
How many friends from the skateboarding were writing and reading as you? I mean, people as passioned as you…
Yeah, some…Maybe, I think, skateboarders in general are underrated to be smart, I feel maybe there is a preconception they are stupid or something. We are indeed intelligent, with a good sense of humor, down to take a trip they do not know where it’ll end up.
There is lots of video and photography done about skating but I feel that the written documentation on this subject is a little bit under represented. There is so more to be said so I wanted to make this sort of erotic skateboarding fiction, the genre I still want to do. It’s a combination of skateboarding and romance.
When you are skateboarding on the streets you feel yourself in these situations, with different textures: you’re dramatically exposed to the city in a direct way. That’s where I’m gravitating: writing any sort of story but more about this genre – skateboarding and romance. Erotic skateboarding fiction.
What about One Dollar Stories – your publishing house in form of a fanzine?
How do you choose the subjects to publish? Which is the distributions of the very array of themes – you have for instance erotic, political and other topics? Is this because you are heterogeneous yourself or is just because you get in love with very different stories they submit to you? And, how do you distribute the single books?
Both. Yeah, when I read a submission I pretty much know when I read through if I want it, I may suggest edits if I have some ideas about them but I can opt for it per se. We do not get so many submissions but we still get some. And I do not select them all. I seek out some writers and we also have multiple authors with multiple stories.
Oh wow, this deli is amazing Buon Appetito (we are in a Muslim Bengalese one, the waiters go to pray downstairs, close to the restroom, the menu is varied but we both choose the salted noodles with salad, Galen puts some sauce on, me not)
I had pork and falafel earlier elsewhere, but, here, since I discovered the Bengal Noodles, I get this. And sometimes a spicy chicken sandwich to go.
Do you understand buon appetito, so?
I do not speak really Italian but I studied French, and yes. I pay attention to words and sometimes I drink Peroni!
I don’t drink Peroni anymore otherwise I get sick of it, I digest better wines than beers, unless we are going toward IPA. So how many titles do you bring to print every year?
As many as I can, as many as it feels right.
I do not have a set schedule which is nice; if I want to keep all the catalogue in print, which is something I do, then the more stories I publish the more I have to keep printing. My printer is not even working very well right now…
Do you print all the books by yourself?
I have an intern named Joel who is helping me quite a lot. My computer is basic. Joel found a free app called Scribes that formats the stories. I used to have another partner helping me, Robert Norman, who has also written two stories and formatted 14-28. We ended out of touch, but Joel, who skates with me said, ‘do you want an unpaid intern?’, I said ‘yes, sure!’ We have 3 new stories coming up, newly formatted. The third one is mine, Charm City. I read it at an art salon recently and is a non-fictional skateboarding piece about myself. I read in front of projected video footage projected while participants sketched live during my presentation. Charm City will be the first one to have illustrations. The illustration are either real (mainly portraits of me reading) and abstract. I like the combination of both. (Reach the end of this interview to get an invitation to the launch party of Charm City in Miami this week…)
Which is your relation with the readers once you read your pieces? Do you prefer the way to receive feedbacks in the face / de visu or via the mediated relations on social networks?
I’m a somewhat introverted and quiet person so I prefer silence as a general state. But as I live and sell stories, my relationship with readers is one where we both help each other, so I cruise around and talk with people. It is also fun when the people enjoy the stories, so this keeps me excited too.
There is lots of hand selling too: I have always lots of One Dollar Story in my bag all the time. There is always, such a lot of personal interactions.
Every time we have a new story, we have a premiere as well as every time there is a new video of mine. We drink a lot, we have fun and it usually works: lots of people come along, either the ones who I do not see often and the ones I do and new people I meet.
Which is your favorite scenario to premiere a video, for instance? And for the readings?
Whenever I make videos, I like to premiere at a bar called Beverlys in 21 Essex St above Canal St – two blocks away from where I live and we’re friends with the managers there. Have you heard of it?
I have made around 30 videos and had 10 premieres at Beverlys. They have one screen in the front and one in the back.
For my stories there is a different place every time. I had a three story release along with a video premiere at The Good Company store.
My video are mixing skateboarding and art as are my stories.
I think to use skateboarding as a chance to introduce people to things but also to let them be introduced to One Dollar Story, so when I premiere the videos exactly when I premiere the story I reach the aim of broad appeal and is a good cross promotion.
Skaters are interested in reading/writing, they are always looking for cheap ways to go out and in general they do not like to pay much, so one dollar is the cheapest price you can sell anything really.
Which is the benchmark of your publication of one dollar? I guess you have to sell a lot to pay you back…
Yes, true. People have suggested about raising our price since they see the priceless value but then I would not be affordable and is not what I want.
For each dollar story sold, 34 cents go to author, 33 cents to the vendor, 33 cents to the production costs. We can actually cover all our basis and anyone makes money. We sell over 1000 copies a year. I do not have official book-keepings, I go periodically to check if they’re sold. We’re growing but it takes much effort..
I usually spend one night printing, one night cutting and stapling, then one night in binding them. Basically it’s a one man routine but now I have this intern, Joel, helping with the formatting and also with the printing, so it is better.
We had a similar publisher in Italy a few years ago, Edizioni Millelire from Stampa Alternativa….
If you like to take a look, the publisher recently gifted all the editions here in free download .
I read so many beautiful essays and little novels in that way. I still keep some of them now, after 20 years…Like one about the erotic literature in Bataille and other authors.
I like very much the relation of a very cheap book and the erotic format…
I saw iTunes selling songs for 99 cents and I felt like that the One Dollar Story was its ‘literature’ version.
I enjoyed fantastic cultural adventures so far, included Re-Birth of the Nation remade by Paul D Miller aka DJ Spooky at the NYU auditorium some days ago. The racial divide is such a big urgency in this country…
I still remember the election day, I had no marijuana and I tried to call my dealer but he did not pick up. I was watching the results on jezebel.com and they were not good, I had some beers but not weed. I thought at one point that all this was a strategy of my dealer, me experiencing Trump’s victory sober! That was something!
I was in Australia when he won, any of my friends in Italy was believing to me…Unfortunately I already forecasted he was going to win…
Which are your favorite authors apart the ones you publish? Do you prefer to read fiction or other genres?
Donna Tartt is one of my favourite, she wrote The Goldfinch most recently.
Today I was skateboarding at Tompkins and saw a skater sitting by reading The Goldfinch. I told him I liked that book a lot and he replied that he liked my style a lot. That’s how we started talking. Then I gave him a dollar story, he did not have a dollar but I gave him a story because he obviously has good literary taste and is better to plant a seed sometimes.
I like Thomas McGuane a lot too. He lives in Montana now; he wrote 92 in The Shade, The Sporting Club. Jim Harrison recently died, he came from Michigan, same as McGuane. I recently read Roberto Bolano’s 2666 and I liked that a lot.
I read skate magazines all the time. I read every word there even if there are more pictures.
Poetry is very present in US with the hugest space in bookstores, meetings, readings and conversations. Also in the subway where there is a program selecting a poem and an artwork to dress the train cabins, Poetry in Motion…We recently translated three of these on Slow Words.
Do you like any poet in particular?
My friend Andrew Weatherhead did publish a book I like and that I will send in a minute, who quickly jumped on the top.
There is also another poet, called David Berman, also in the band The Silver Jews who are friends of Pavement.
I read a lot of good poetry when I was in college, I have the sensation that the best thing I got at college was the reading list. I’m working on memorizing TS Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, I’m pretty close.
I know that Ezra Pound did a lot of bad things but I have spent much time reading a few of his poems and thought about them a lot. Hugh Selwyn Mauberly in particular.
Poetry is sort of more digestible – depending on the length or of what it is, of course. Poetry is like a skate trick – a subtle, little variation that can be enormous.
Now the fancy questions: your favorite food and drinks?
My favourite food might be these Bengal noodles we’re eating now at this deli, Mott Corner. There is a Chinese bakery calle Fay Dah where I get delicious fish sandwiches and a coffee in the morning before to go to work (he works in a very fancy fashion boutique, one of the best and most renowned of NYC, where One Dollar Stories are also sold: Opening Ceremony).
If I have to eat a food forever, it would be sushi.
Barbecue is also really good.
Usually for dinner I like panini very much.
Do you see yourself in New York in ten years from now?
Yes. I feel very comfortable here. There are a few cities where you can get along without a car and this is one of these. So nice, and I feel a responsibility less not driving.
I like also Indiana and if my parents will need my help I will surely go back there to help; they’re nearing sixty and in a very good shape, so hopefully they will continue like that for ten years and more!
I like to stay here, I like here.
What do you give to New York with or apart the One Dollar Stories?
Within skateboarding and art media in general, I see that written words are the least practiced form. Not so many people make written zines in NY, they mostly make photo-zines: which I like but words have attracted me for so long that whenever I find a written zine that is not mine I get excited and start to read it. My sales prove that there is a market for the content and I have all these stories to publish I’ve been writing for years.
At first after college I would send them to magazines and they’ve been not accepted, so I felt the zine was the perfect ally for me to publish. And when I write them, they are almost immediately commoditized.
If short stories are collected in a sole book it’s not the same. I feel that one story at once is the perfect format for a city like New York where everyone takes the metro and is cool to read a zine with one story inside it. A book is different. Of course they also are checking their phones very much…But I feel that a person reading a book in the subway has very attractive look.
When people ask how long is a Dollar Story reading I usually say it is about a train ride long. That’s the goal.
Apart in the pauses while skateboarding, where is a good place for you to read a story even if not one of the yours?
I pretty much read in bed, I write in bed and I watch or edit videos in bed.
When I’m on the street I’m usually doing something, I pretty much read in my house and in my bed.
Which is your favorite music?
I love chopped and screwed music, which consists in slowing more or less 75% of the speed of the original song – and often you add effect to make some tributes, it’s a kind of rap music.
When I make videos I aim to show the music I’m into so this summer I made five videos in five weeks, each with a new chopped and screwed song.
When I was going to school with my mum as a kid, I was listening to Natalie Merchant so I chopped and screwed her song recently. I like also Future, Goodrich Pablo Juan and other newer rappers. One of the best things to be alive for is this music.
I like also Belle and Sebastian a lot.
I have also lots of friends dj and wherever they play I go.
But Atlanta rap music is my main answer for what I like.
I like also women singers on piano, I like Joni Mitchell a lot.
– – –
To know more about One Dollar Story publications and to buy them:
To follow Galen DeKemper’s videos: