When I was working on the Mallory Smart article for the Reader, I listened to a lot of book-scene podcasts and scanned a bunch of Twitter timelines for research. One show was hosted by a guy named Sean Thor Conroe. He seemed connected to many big fish in the indie-lit pond. When the publisher Giancarlo DiTrapano was found dead in a New York hotel room last spring, Conroe cried some of the biggest and loudest tears. I liked hearing some of the writers he interviewed, but was really put off by his affected way of talking.
These days, there’s a polite term for the way he speaks——blaccent——but to me, there’s no other way to describe it than whigger. I know there’s no controlling what art or culture one is influenced by and that imitation is the best form of flattery and all, but sometimes people just sound like phonies. Conroe calls lines he wrote bars and he doen’t record podcasts but rips them. It’s all silly and kind of annoying. It reminds me of Herbert Kornfeld.
One of Conroe’s heroes is the long-time indie-lit legend, Sam Pink. He was a guest on the show and a frequent subject of Conroe’s monologues. He repeatedly called Pink one of his key influences. I hadn’t read much of Pink’s stuff but what little I had made me think he was the real deal. The polar opposite of Conroe.
A couple weeks ago, Pink published a 6K-word essay about how Conroe basically ripped off his voice and parlayed it into a $200,000 advance for his debut novel. I read it and got really angry. I don’t know either of these guys, don’t give two shits about the publishing industry, and have no horse in the race/skin in the game/whatever, but artistic integrity is a big fucking sticking point with me. All a creative person has is their voice and this little weasel is trying to cash in on someone else’s.
The few writers I talked to about this mostly agreed with me. Few had heard of Conroe, but they will soon. When a corporation sinks a chunk of money into what they believe is the next big thing, the public will be notified. They don’t do this for art’s sake. To them, if there’s art involved, it’s just window-dressing for the sales job.
Pink wrote on social media that he wouldn’t discuss the essay on Twitter, but would do so via podcast or interview. I passed on my contact info through a mutual friend. No one listens to my podcast because I only publicize it here and half the time it’s just me reading poems in Russian, but if Pink needed a platform to talk about what was done to him, I was willing.
Conroe posted a rambling monologue response to Pink’s essay on his podcast. He argued that his book is a tribute to Pink or samples him the way hip-hop samples previously recorded music. He also went on and on about how Pink had insulted him. It was a classic example of alligator tears. Then, within a day or two, the podcast disappeared. I don’t know if his publishers made him remove it or he had a pang of conscience, but there’s no trace of the thing.
As a way of voicing support, I bought one of Pink’s books and devoured it in a couple days. I want to read more. So I thank Conroe for getting me into Pink.
I pitched some version of this post to a few publications and none were eager to do it. It’s a small industry and few want to piss off any of the big fish in it. If they go out on a limb and call the guy a thief and a fake, there may be consequences, whether it’s true or not. Because of the level of investment, I’m sure Conroe’s book will be a success. Meanwhile, Sam Pink is on social media selling his art, chapbooks, and asking about what it costs to print his own books. There’s clearly no corporation backing him. Needless to say, I’ll always be on the side of a guy like that.
The book I read is called Witch Piss. It takes place in a very well-rendered Chicago. It has a vivid first-hand quality that can’t be faked. If his other books are half as good, I’m eager to dive in.