Interview: Daniel Maurer, Author
Labelled a “manthropologist,” Daniel Maurer gets plenty of opportunities to observe his subjects in the field. He’s the editor of New York magazine’s food and nightlife blog, Grub Street and his writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, the New York Times, and Nerve.com. He’s covered swingers in Argentina, taxidermy-decorated bars in New York City, and hillbilly theater. If it’s late at night, and the alcohol is flowing, then chances are that Maurer is there.
With his first book, Brocabulary: The New Man-i-festo of Dude Talk, Maurer puts a spin of the Bud Lite bottle on the dictionary. The book explains terms such as “bar par,” “smashedication,” and “shred-it card.” The amount of puns and reworking of vocabulary words is mind boggling. No word in the English language is safe from broappropriation.
This is humor in the Tucker Max and Robert Hamburger vein, so parts of the book are sure to offend. However, proud members of the Bro Tribe would have it no other way.
Maurer spoke to me about learning from porn magazines, the notion that men don’t buy books, and why you shouldn’t write a book.
Slushpile.net: Let’s start with the obligatory background question. Where did you grow up?
Maurer: I grew up in Boston and then spent middle school and high school in Nashville, Tennessee.
Slushpile.net: What was your earliest literary love? What book meant the most to you during your childhood or teen years?
Maurer: I was obsessed with Faulkner. In fact I cut an “As I Lay Drinking” joke from the book. A little too esoteric.
Slushpile.net: Where did you go to school and what did you major in?
Maurer: I studied literature at Sarah Lawrence, which is NOT a girls’ school. I actually took a class called “The Social Deconstruction of Gender.” I’m sure Brocabulary will be on the syllabus next year.
Slushpile.net: When you first started writing, did you ever dream you would someday cover the swinging scene in Buenos Aires and write for a failed porn mag?
Maurer: I remember Stephen King saying porn mags were the only ones that paid, so believe me, I’m happy that Brocabulary is being excerpted in the December issue of Penthouse. As for the swingers piece, I’ve always loved writers like William Vollmann and Hunter S. Thompson who turn their personal adventures into compelling stories.
Slushpile.net: While working for the porn magazine, what lesson did you learn that you continue to apply to your writing today?
Maurer: I did a series of “Have You Seen This Drunk?” posters for Raven (R.I.P.) with my friend Stirling Snow. I guess I learned the value of using visuals to amplify the humor of your writing. It’s great to write something you think is funny and give it to an illustrator that can make it truly hilarious.
Slushpile.net: How did you get your agent? Did you submit Brocabulary to a variety of agents or did you get representation because of your journalism work?
Maurer: I knew Jud Laghi from when I was an assistant editor at Grove/Atlantic. I knew he’d be able to look past the “guys don’t buy books” thing and find editors willing to do the same.
Slushpile.net: What was the submission process like for Brocabulary? Did you use the standard nonfiction proposal and sample chapter?
Maurer: I was a little nervous when I sent out the proposal. When I was at Grove/Atlantic, I tried to sign up Tucker Max’sbook, because I thought it was, at last, the aggressively male counterpart to Sex and the City. Our publisher, who incidentally published Sex and the City, was going to let me offer the $7,500 or so that it would’ve taken to buy the book but after actually reading it, he told me he couldn’t ask his female staffers to work on it– it was too offensive and besides, it wasn’t that funny. And yet, it was fine to ask his staffers to work on a host of “shocking” female sex memoirs, because those had a history of selling. When I went out with Brocabulary, I was worried about getting a similar reaction despite the fact that I kept some of the more potentially offensive words out of the proposal, but I found that editors were totally open to the material now that Tucker Max has sold half a million copies.
Slushpile.net: Brocabulary owes a lot to its design and illustrations. Did you have the illustrator lined up as part of the submission process or did that come after you had a book deal?
Maurer: I’ve known Stirling Snow since seventh grade. Being able to throw some friendjamins his way and hire him to illustrate the book seemed like a complete validation of all the time we spent drawing dirty comics in math class.
Slushpile.net: Your book deal was announced on July 3, 2007, just before the holiday. How did you celebrate?
Maurer: I don’t remember, but I do remember that I had exactly seventy-five cents in my bank account when I got the news. And I remember that Nick Denton, the publisher of Gawker, emailed to ask if I was going to quit my job. I asked him why, was he looking to replace his blogger dude, Alex Balk? He responded, “Nah, just curious. And you could never fill Balk’s shoes.” Douché!
Slushpile.net: Brocabulary features a discussion (complete with a table) on how women misinterpret what men say and do. For example, when a guy brings a woman to a bar to watch the game so he can have a date and yet still hang with his bros, she “fembellishes” that situation to mean, “He already introduced me to all his friends. I think his family is next.”
Based on your experience with editors and agents, what is something they say that aspiring authors similarly misinterpret?
Maurer: Maybe the word “interesting.” That’s basically rejection letter-speak for “I don’t give a f***.”
Slushpile.net: In the book, almost every other word is a joke, a pun, or a brocabulary definition. Did you ever think there might be too many jokes? Some writers might think there needs to be more “straight” lines. How did you balance the jokes with the more straight-forward writing?
Maurer: I probably should’ve held back a little on the puns and jokes. When you’re writing something line-by-line, you just want to pack in as much humor as possible. But when you’re reading quickly, you end up missing a lot of those nuances anyway, or you resent having to stop and “get” stuff. Let’s face it though, double entendres are a huge part of guy humor, and I wanted to take that to the ridiculous extreme.
Slushpile.net: In terms of the tone and the voice in Brocabulary, did you have any other books that you referred to or that you thought nailed a similar tone? Anything you used as an example?
Maurer: I was trying to satirize the “pick-up artist” genre as well as books like Tucker Max’s, and the idea that you can say anything, no matter how retrograde, as long as you say it forcefully and shamelessly, and in a “funny” way. It’s okay to advocate wearing panties as long as you call them MANties and they’re from some chick you banged.
Slushpile.net: What music did you listen to (if any) while writing the book? What is the Brocabulary soundtrack?
Maurer: I do recommend “manthems” in the book (“Girls” by the Beastie Boys, “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Motley Crue) but any music with lyrics tends to distract me. I listened to a lot of Coltrane. And of course some Jewel.
Slushpile.net: You define “brewdonym” as a drinking name that a man should use he’s tanked. One example is Liquardo Montelban and Abraham Drinkin’. Give us some writer brewdonyms… surely the alcoholic excesses of Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and many others could generate some good ones.
Maurer: Indeed I discuss the fact that Faulkner and Hemingway spent an equal amount of time pounding away at their Smith Coronas and just plain pounding Coronas. There’s mention of F. “Shots” Fitzgerald. Bukowski (Brewkowski?) is an example of a “guydol”– a guy whose manliness you idolize. You definitely want his books in your guybrary.
Slushpile.net: A similar book from one of the writers for How I Met Your Mother is also being published. In Brocabulary, you define rules for how men should act when competing for the attentions of the same woman, for how they should act when drinking, and other potentially competitive situations. Applying the rules of Brocabulary to writers, how should one act towards a literary competitor?
Maurer: Hopefully you’ll be able to point out that your book has gotten better reviews. For instance, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram says Brocabulary is “more consistently entertaining” and “more explanatory” than Bro Code, and “Moby Dick by comparison.” Referring to the other book as “that one” might also help.
Slushpile.net: You’re the editor of New York magazine’s food and nightlife blog, Grub Street. What’s the biggest occupational hazard of being a food and nightlife writer?
Maurer: Indeed freebauchery is a dangerous thing. Too much of it and you might just grow a pair of gut cheeks, which is when your gut gets so big that you can smush it down the middle and make it look like butt cheeks.
Slushpile.net: What are you working on next?
Maurer: Grub Street is a full-time job. And now that the election is pretty much over, I probably won’t be making my porno, Y OBAMA TAMBIEN, about a young presidential hopeful getting tail on the campaign trail.
Slushpile.net: What is your single-best, most-important, can’t-live-without writing tip you would offer to aspiring authors?
Maurer: Avoid procrasturbation (using masturbation as a procrastination method). And don’t drink too much water. A friend of mine actually landed in the emergency room because he drank too much of the stuff while writing. Stick to the proven favorite, whiskey.
Slushpile.net: What is your single-best, most-important, can’t-live-without publishing tip you would offer to aspiring authors struggling to break into print?
Maurer: Well, here’s what I learned from four years in publishing: Don’t write fiction; fiction doesn’t sell. Don’t write humor; humor is difficult. Don’t write a memoir; memoirs are over. Don’t write short stories; too marginal. Don’t write a guy book; guys don’t buy books. Don’t write chick lit; it’s totally played. Don’t write poems; nobody publishes poetry anymore. And don’t write a book; the book is dead.
For more information about Brocabulary, check out the book’s website.
Author photo by Lea Golis.