Working with Words: Jordan Bass

Jordan Bass is the managing editor of McSweeney’s. He’s in Melbourne this week for two events with the Wheeler Centre, including , a special Australian Aboriginal fiction edition, with four stories by indigenous authors, curated by Chris Flynn.

What was the first job you had in publishing – and how did you get it?

McSweeney’s is the first and only job I’ve had in publishing. I got it through sheer luck and persistence and some amount of seeming compatibility with the place – I’d been an intern, then gone back to school, and they decided to hire me just before I graduated, even though I probably would have come back just to work for free.

What was the best thing about working as a publisher?

Being a part of the process of bringing a book you believe out into the world is really great. I’m still very happy that I get to do that.

What was the worst thing about working as a publisher?

You have to say no to a whole lot of people. It hardens your heart.

What’s been the most significant moment in your career so far? And why?

Boy, I don’t know! We’ve won some nice awards, and put out some really terrific books, and I’m certainly very happy to be here in Australia – kicking off the Wheeler Centre’s new season has been very significant, I’d say.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about the publishing industry?

Usually the advice people give you about why you should publish their children’s book about basketball-playing vampires is not very good. Best advice is that it’s still a business where you can compete on quality with the big guys, if you try hard enough.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever read or heard about yourself or your work?

This is a funny question! I don’t know, really. The line on McSweeney’s is pretty predictable; I guess I have heard some surprising Jordan Bass–related things, but they usually made sense, in the end.

If you weren’t working in the world of books and writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Rhythmic gymnastics.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what do you think?

Sure, absolutely. No feral child has ever written a great novel.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to break into publishing?

The best way to break in is to love every part of it – to want to learn about every aspect of the industry, rather than just cherry-picking the fun stuff. The more you know, the more valuable you’ll be. Or just wait until night, go around the back, hope that no one set the alarm.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Only to keep writing. And not to listen to guys like me who tell you otherwise.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

I’m a bookstore person, generally, but I’ll go online if all else fails.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?

I just started reading Zigzag Street, being here in Australia, so as of this afternoon I think I’d go with Richard Derrington. I’d ask him for life advice.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

Donald Barthelme’s 60 Stories really sealed the deal for me, in terms of showing me how much you could do with short fiction. It’s an amazing, amazing book.

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