Interview with Christopher Newgent on the independent publishing world, the web’s effect on literature, and balancing work with passion

Christopher Newgent

Christopher Newgent graduated from Ball State with a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing in 2006. Newgent puts his degree to use trying to improve his city environment of Indianapolis by bringing independent literature to the public at art and music events. He generously agreed to share those experiences with us here at the English Department blog, as well as his experience balancing a working life with creative passions.

Can you share a little about what your job is and what sorts of duties it entails?

I work as a technical writer for Aprimo, Inc., a marketing software company in Indianapolis. My job is primarily writing the online Help—how to perform specific functions in the product. I’m about to start taking over localization efforts, which is business-speak for getting the product translated into other languages.

How did your English major at Ball State prepare you for such a position?

The fact that it had “writing” in the title helped, but it actually took a bit of salesmanship to convince the hiring manager that I could take a creative writing major and succeed as a technical writer. There’s a hefty difference between creative and technical writing, but the overlap exists in consideration of audience and precise language. BSU has professors who really excel at teaching these two aspects—Mark Neely, Sean Lovelace, and Andrew Scott particularly come to mind.

Can you explain a little about Vouched Books—how it came about and what your aims and ambitions are for the project?

Vouched is a project to promote independent literature in Indianapolis. It started with the idea of setting up a flea-market-style book table at literary and art events, and shilling small press books that I’d read personally and wanted to champion. It grew from there to include the Vouched Presents reading series and Vouched Online, where I and a handful of contributors link to work published in online journals that we like—curating our little corner of the literary internet, essentially.

As for ambitions, I should probably sit down sometime and really make a list of them. It’s all sort of grown organically so far, to be honest. I don’t have any dream of opening a brick & mortar bookstore, or making it a financially viable endeavor. I just want to promote some work that I really believe in by people who don’t have much of a budget to promote beyond the internet. And the way I’ve found to do that is to go where people are who appreciate art and words, but likely don’t know independent literature exists. If a legit opportunity arises to make Vouched my full-time career, you can bet I’ll own it, but right now, it’s just a hobby; an exercise in literary citizenship.

How do you balance your working life with your literary pursuits/passions?

Honestly, the only way to find a balance is the classic cliché—show up to the page every day. Make time for it. Ideas will never be the problem. A story can come to you when you’re driving to your aunt’s for Christmas. The problem will be sustaining the drive to sit down when you get home from your aunt’s and punch out a draft without having the deadlines you have in school, the drive to write for yourself instead of a grade. It’s easy to be an idealist in college, to think you’re writing for yourself then, but you’re not, and that’s okay. And you’ll find that out a year or so after graduation. Your life will get busy, you’ll have a new roof to afford, a spouse to adore, maybe kids, college loans, a car that breaks down. And unless you say, “No matter how busy life gets, I will write 750 words a day,” you’ll eventually be reduced to jotting an occasional line on a napkin until one day you wake up and remember you wanted to be a writer once. With all faith, you’ll pull those napkins out from the drawer you were keeping them, and start writing.

Are there any other projects, on the web, personal, or otherwise, that you’re involved in?

For the past almost two years, I’ve been working on founding INDYCOG, a blog that grew into a nonprofit organization that works with Indianapolis to promote cycling. But I’ve recently taken a lesser role in that as I focus more on Vouched and other endeavors.

You seem to be very active on the web, as well as knowledgeable about web-based material. What are your thoughts on the web’s effect on literature and how people are adapting to it?

I’m actually working on an essay/guest post for HTMLGiant discussing the explosion of independent music in the late 90’s due to the internet, and how I see the current independent literary community doing the same thing now, albeit a decade late. I think literature is behind the curve in adapting to the web, likely because of the taboo online publishing has had until recently. But, I think as online journals build their legitimacy, as more and more writers and publishers learn to use the internet to promote and build community, the more opportunities will present themselves to literary authors, especially emerging authors. But let’s face it—romance and celebrity memoirs will always outsell literary works, just like even though you hear all sorts of independent music on commercials and TV shows now, Nickelback still outsells Sufjan.

What are some books you’re reading right now, and what are some titles to look for that may be somewhat under the radar?

I’ve just started writing a novel, so I’ve turned my attention to those a bit, reading Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. There’s kind of a lack of novels in the small press world. I just started Matt Bell’s How They Were Found, and I recently finished Mark Neely’s Four of a Kind, both of which deserve to be read. If you’ve not read Sasha Fletcher’s When All Our Days Are Numbered yet, then you’re without. And, if you want to learn how to craft a sentence, Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler.

Top five literary blogs…GO!

In no particular order: HTMLGiant, Bark, We Who Are About to Die, PANK Blog, Big Other.

Any parting advice/wisdom you would like to offer to the students of BSU?

You are not alone.

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