1. Broad Overviews of the Moment as a Whole: Beach Sloth Talks About His Process

    Beach Sloth is a semi-anonymous writer and blogger known for his coverage of alt lit, which has attracted the attention of Frank Hinton, I Am Alt Lit, Creepy Faggot, Alt Lit Gossip, and others. He recently self-published a collection of experimental poetry, which has also attracted favorable reviews around the alt lit community.

    Caleb Hildenbrandt:
    When you first started going by the name Beach Sloth, you were a music reviewer (largely focused on indie acts), who then started reviewing more and more indie writing (of the type we’ve come to call “alt lit”), and now you seem to function as a sort of “radar” for the alt lit community—not so much ranking new writing (as you did, and still do, with music) but providing coverage of what’s going on at any given moment. How do you see your current role—as a critic, a journalist, or something else?

    Beach Sloth:
    I see myself as sort of a combination of a critic and journalist. What’s nice about being a journalist for alt lit is I rarely have to physically go anywhere or physically order anything. Any material I’d need is online. Every time an event happens it is usually broadcast with the broadcast even saved. That’s a nice thing.

    Part of my work is critical. I do review many of these things that come across my screen. While I may not give them an explicit score, I do try to find the parts of the work that appeal to me the most. It is a strange sort of thing to both report and critique but I try to do them both (that can be hard depending on how familiar/not familiar I am with the subject’s work).

    Caleb Hildenbrandt:
    Most critique seems to rest on some kind of criteria, and in the absence of a holistic score, understanding a particular reviewer’s criteria can be crucial to understanding the review. What are some of your criteria for reviewing alt lit?

    Beach Sloth:
    The main criteria would be “What do I enjoy about this piece”. Generally if there is enough that interests me I tend to focus on those elements. I wonder if I can ever capture exactly what I like about a piece in a particular review. Oftentimes (particularly for books) it can be extraordinarily hard.

    I have a few different techniques for the reviews: one is more of a ‘riffing’ that I do off of the original piece. The second would be to take the general mood or feel of the book and try to analyze it that way. A third way is to simply inject outside influences and make them dance with the original material creating a strange juxtaposition. No matter how I ultimately decide to do it (and these explanations are greatly simplified) I try to avoid spoilers. This is a bad habit for reviews in general and I hate reading spoilers. Wish less reviews used them.

    Caleb Hildenbrandt:
    The “riffing” and juxtapository methods you use have interested me. Sometimes I’ll read a review and not really get what you’re talking about, or realize you’re making a kind of inside joke that I have to read the original piece to understand. Is this technique inspired by anybody? You’ve previously talked about some of your favorite fiction writers, but are there any reviewers or journalists that influence your coverage style?

    Beach Sloth:
    Yeah I try to do the riffing as a way of getting people to engage with the original piece. The fact that some people decide to read it based off of this technique makes me feel really happy. My ultimate intention is to get people to engage with what I review, alongside making the review a piece of writing to be respected as well.

    The idea of inserting oneself into the review or story is something I enjoy. Hunter S. Thompson did this a lot with his writing, where he created an alternate persona (Raoul Duke) to cover various events. I think I’m particularly influenced by parts of Thompson’s style though I am not interested in politics to the degree he was.

    Caleb Hildenbrandt:
    I guess it’s worth noting that Thompson was kind of pessimistic in his coverage—talking about “the kind of peak that never comes again,” or the “high-water mark” which he found himself, and his culture, receding from. You, on the other hand, are known as this bastion of positivity (of “boosting”). You’ve optimistically remarked on the potential of the internet, of alt lit, of the new culture you and others are attempting to build—is it fair to say you think we’re on a cultural upswing?

    Beach Sloth:
    Thompson had another belief too that he was a little too old for much of what occurred around him, like he had been born too early for much of it. And yes, a lot of his work does display a deeply-rooted pessimism but overall he was surprisingly optimistic considering some of the events he was exposed to.

    I think the internet does mark the beginning of a cultural upswing. Initially the internet came out with a deeply troll-ish or negative connotation. Alone or masked someone could make one’s life miserable without ever having to meet them. This impulse still exists but I feel a lot of that negative energy has been confronted and converted into a different focus. Rather than tearing each other down (which is a pretty rotten practice), social media is used to build each other up. There are people on the internet I can be closer to than people I see every day of my life. Now I can support those from far away without ever having to meet them. This change from negative to positive is one of the most important changes.

    People seem to be on the internet more often than they are watching TV or engaging in more passive forms of culture consumption. This is a good thing. By engaging the culture or media it allows a sense of control, of meaning, and this is very positive. Currently I’d say there is something of a cultural upswing on the internet but not in the traditional (Nobel Prize, etc.) sort of way. The new way is through support instead of reward, which is a healthier and more sustainable method long term anyway.

    Caleb Hildenbrandt:
    About trolls—have you ever found yourself trolling anyone?

    Beach Sloth:
    I avoid trolling at this point. While the opportunity to do ‘political trolling’ remains somewhat strong I avoid it. There is too much negativity associated with trolling and when I begin to rely on negative rather than positive impulses I tend to become a bit cranky. Basically the activity is against my current nature though in the past I did it a whole lot.

    Caleb Hildenbrandt:
    What brought about the change?

    Beach Sloth:
    Uh, that’s a good question. I think my realization that people are often put down or mocked a little too readily. After I while I figured I should probably work against that impulses, to support rather than tear down.

    Caleb Hildenbrandt:
    I have to admit: sometimes there seems to be a really fine line, especially on the internet, between unrestrained enthusiasm and trolling—between saying “boost” and “cool story, bro.” Sometimes
    I’ve read your work—well, the other day I read your (positive) review of a new ebook, and then I read the ebook, and thought it was shit (and I use that word very advisably) and had to ask myself—“Is Beach Sloth for real?” How do you navigate that line between sincere support and sarcasm? Is it ever something you struggle with?

    Beach Sloth:
    I agree. Sarcasm is hard to decipher on the internet. Generally people tend to take a more defensive position on the internet versus how they would act in real life.

    I do bring attention to various writers, pieces, books, music, movies, and whatever else I find the time to explore. I think I am for the most part sincere though without sarcasm it wouldn’t be as funny to me. I avoid outright mocking or being mean. I like being able to start at the beginning of a writer’s output and figure it out from there. People disagree with me a whole bunch but I’m more than happy with that. If I can even bring people’s attention to new work than my goal is achieved.

    Caleb Hildenbrandt:
    That emphasis on the new seems to be a huge part of the Beach Sloth appeal—people will toss off a new story and you’ll’ve already covered it before it hits the ground, so to speak. But that hasn’t always been the case—in your first book, Beach Sloth’s Collected Thoughts, you take the time to talk about everything from Radiohead (not new) to Slint (not only not new but pretty much off everyone’s radar). You’ve also made periodic references to Jonathan Franzen, Joseph Heller, Pynchon, PBS, NPR—in other words, rather “establishment” stuff. While we can’t know whether the flarf of today will survive fifty years from now, you certainly seem to have the grounding necessary to expound on other topics—have you ever considered writing for an “establishment” audience, about more enduring/mainstream/critically-received subjects?

    Beach Sloth:
    I love the mention of my first book, Beach Sloth’s Collected Thoughts. I consider that first book to be the ‘1.0 of Beach Sloth’. My more recent ‘I want to YouTube down the Rivers of America’ is the ‘2.0 of Beach Sloth’. Hopefully for ‘3.0 of Beach Sloth’ is a larger, more ambitious project but time will dictate whether or not such a thing would or could ever happen. I’m deeper in alt lit than I was before. It can take a lot to get into alt lit, to find what works for you. Part of why I do this is to give people a broad overview of the moment as a whole, as best as one sloth possibly can. This project is going to continue for perhaps an unreasonable amount of time and to claim that I’m always going to be covering the same thing is unrealistic. As my tastes shift I can imagine myself doing my mainstream articles or reviews. While it may not seem like it to the outside I feel that I am covering larger or broader trends within alt lit as a whole.

    Caleb Hildenbrandt:
    Can you name some of those trends? Like you said, from the outside these things can be inscrutable—do you see “schools of thought” or specific groups of styles in the work that comes across your desk?

    Beach Sloth:
    I see a trend towards the more positive branch of alt lit. There will always be a place for sadder stuff but some of the focus on the positive is definitely a good thing. Flarf too seems to be receding a bit in terms of an ultimate influence. More people appear to be trying their hand at short stories (as shown by the ‘Shabby Doll House' phenomena). I think there is a greater willingness too for those working in different aspects of alt lit to come together and collaborate. Basically whereas the alt lit community was a bit more fragmented before it appears to be more together, thanks to the help of a few sites and specific people.

    Caleb Hildenbrandt:
    Sites like?

    Beach Sloth:
    I think alt lit gossip brings the alt lit community together serving as a post board. Pop Serial keeps tabs on a lot of goings-on, I barely know how Dierks does it. Various Facebook groups help too. HTML Giant appears to work as a more ‘upscale’ version or form of alt lit. Thought Catalog too contributes to helping alt lit writers move outside of their usual realms. Those are off the top of my head I feel bad for whoever I might have left out. I always worry when I list people off.

    Caleb Hildenbrandt:
    Yeah, sorry, I realize that’s kind of a high-pressure question.

    You mentioned earlier that there’s this trend in alt lit where people are starting to collaborate more, which I certainly see to be the case as well. Is there anyone with whom you’d like to collaborate? Anybody, any medium, any genre.

    Beach Sloth:
    If Farmers Manual still existed I’d want to be their appointed blogger. I feel a lot of those anonymous collective things were bigger in the 90s when the sense of individuality gave away to a sense of unity and purpose. Now that people consume culture in smaller ways (directly through the maker) that isn’t done as often. Hope at some point I can see more anonymous collective action. Bruce High Quality Foundation is a good start since those are artists who gave up identity for the ability to do something big. Anyone who can manage to do that in art is pretty fascinating to me.

    Caleb Hildenbrandt:
    It would be really cool if alt lit could move into performance art and installation stuff, like BHQF, although I’m not sure what that would look like. And joining an art collective would, of course, require abandoning your beet farm.

    Beach Sloth:
    I think there are a few examples of performance act in alt lit, such as Steve Roggenbuck who incorporates a lot of elements of performance art into his readings. The influx of vloggers into the mix makes such an event even more likely. Hopefully with more readings this can become more of a thing.

    Caleb Hildenbrandt:
    Yes! I forgot about the video bloggers—but I can think of several off-hand. And the reading scene seems to be alive and well, with more and more internet writers hitting the road to speak to their readers in-person.

    Thanks for talking with me, Beach Sloth. This has been a lot of fun. Before we close, can you give our readers a look at what’s next for you? Any upcoming readings or pieces-in-progress?

    Beach Sloth:
    No worries Caleb. Thank you for interviewing me. Hopefully I can get some pieces up in new places, like Thought Catalog and such. Perhaps I can finally work on a really big project but there’s always so many wonderful things to do in life.


    Previously:
    ~Shabby Epiphanies: A Completely Unedited Conversation with Maggie Lee
    ~A Common Narrative that Resonates with the Circumstances: Stanley Lieber Speaks about His Work
    ~Early Lief: A Conversation with Steve Roggenbuck
    ~Nothing Seems Definite So Far: An Interview with Stephanie Cook

     
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