Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Your Digital Footprint Or Finding Brad Land

Writers of fiction generally try to build a platform somewhere online. Be it Goodreads, a blog, an active Facebook page, a smart-ass Twitter account. But then there are the ones who don't. If I could ask Brad Land why he's not online, I would, but he's not online to send him an email or a snappy tweet. He has no digital footprint. Or he doesn't have one that I can find. He might be lurking under a psuedonym, like my kids do on Tumblr, but again, no one can find him that way.

Granted, a few interesting articles are available online about this enigmatic writer, but much of it is old, from when he became well-known in the literary world. He wrote a best-selling memoir in 2005, Goat, published by Random House about young adulthood and violence and two incidents that shaped his life. First, he was abducted and beaten by strangers from a party he attended; then he was hazed at Clemson University while pledging his brother's fraternity, Kappa Sigma. I read the slim, brooding book last month, and his writing threw me back to my own angst-ridden college experiences of trying to fit in (I rushed one fall but didn't pledge. It was a stomach-churning mistake, and sorority life wasn't for me.)

Land wrote his memoir while nearing the end of a graduate program at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. It became a national bestseller and next month, a movie will be released based on the book. I didn't know any of this while I was reading the book, but as I was reading, I wanted to know more about Brad Land and his more recent work. So I started to do what anyone in 2016 would do to find a person: google him.

Mostly, old press from Goat populated the search but nothing about him recently. None of my searches on Facebook or Twitter turned up anything, so I tried emailing the publisher. The only email I could find for Random House Trade Publications was to request review copies of books. I sent an email with a subject line, "Interview with author Brad Land," but I got a disheartening generic robo-reply that said, basically, tough cookies.

In a lucky twist, a writer friend of mine said she had interviewed Land once after a reading he gave in Asheville. A review she wrote about his second book, which is still posted online, gave me the best leads. It sent me to an old website of his, www.goatthebook.com, which must have been Land's attempt at the time of Goat's release to hurry up and put up a web presence. The site has some helpful links, but it's also a convoluted, writer-be-damned, who-gives-a-shit site that really doesn't mention Land by name. One of the links goes to an obvious Q&A about the book. I tried the email address on the site. My mail bounced back, undeliverable.

The last place he was known to have lived, according to my online search, was Carborro, NC, where another writer friend of mine also lives. My friend says that he remembers meeting Land once briefly around the time of the memoir's release. But has heard nothing more.

Why did I go through this rigmarole? Because he was from South Carolina, went to grad school for an MFA in creative writing in NC, and wrote a damn good memoir. (His second book, Pilgrims Upon the Earth, was not commercially well-reviewed.) I thought, why not find him and find out what he's working on and see if he can spare some insight on this writing life?

But he's off the grid. Which made me also wonder why so many of us want to be ON the damn grid. Who wants to be an open public record? Who wants to have to continually market or sacrifice privacy for the sake of the constant need for sales or to create searchable content or to feed the public's hunger for the dish? Not that Land is a celebrity, but he certainly made a splash and the subject matter of his book is intriguingly harsh, and the way he wrote the narrative is worth studying.

I had to stop when I felt the urge to google his obit. He's out there, just not interested in the rest of us.