Upon release of the book cover in January 2023, names and addresses were collected on my website. Anyone who left their contact information was promised something in the mail.
In April I mailed out about a thousand postcards (mostly US, some Asia/Europe) with a link to the first of many webpages meant to suggest “the world” of the book
This was meant to be “desktop clutter” circa my first year of college. Certain items on the desktop can be moved around. The bookmark links out to a pre-order page. The Pearl Jam cassette links to a Spotify playlist for Doubleday. The mixtape links to a college radio broadcast circa 1997 (actually staged but with era-specific music, references, banter)
The AOL post-it linked to another webpage
All of that chat windows can be moved around, and they all link to a selection of 1990s-era videos, commercials, news clips, etc about the future of computing and the Internet.
The postcards just gave people a sense of the book’s world. I described it as “clues and ephemera and rabbitholes.” I never posted links to these pages but folks who received postcards did, and I was happy they did so. A student at Berkeley volunteered to distribute them on campus, and he hid them in the library, at bookstores, all around campus (here’s a video):
Throughout the spring and early summer, I also distributed postcards around New York this way--hiding them in bookstores and record stores, leaving them in public, etc.
In June, I mailed out the second postcard. The mailing list had grown organically. All of the postcards line up and the cassettes are actually ordered in way that reflects the arc of the book, though I didn’t explain this at the time.
This time, the webpage was meant to evoke my desktop around late sophomore or early junior year. It’s meant to look like I’m in the middle of putting together a zine. Again, certain items can be moved around.
The postcard goes to the college radio playlist, the bookmark goes to a pre-order link, the AOL post-it goes to the AOL page. There’s a handwritten journal scrap with a quote from the book, and it goes to this page
There are a few paragraphs from the book galley--a very brief preview for readers. The bottom left flyer goes to a page with a bunch of movable cassettes
All the cassettes link out to live videos from Bay Area concerts and house shows circa 1996-1997. The bookmark goes to a pre-order link.
In the background of that page above (with the galley excerpts) there’s a QR code labeled “A BERKELEY BONUS.” The postcards that had gone to any Berkeley addresses had an extra sticker attached with this code, and now it was available to all. This webpage featured vintage Berkeley postcards throughout the decades
Each postcard links to some kind of Berkeley-related video or audio. A Sun Ra lecture from the 1970s. Footage of a 1960s drum circle, protests, kids wandering around shopping. A student documentary from the 1980s about Telegraph Avenue. Home video of Deadheads on their way to a concert. Live concerts recorded on Sproul Plaza.
Over the summer, Doubleday sent out ARCs. We wanted to give early readers a playlist link, but in a novel way. So Thomas Gebrehemedhin, Oliver Munday and I came up with the idea of having the QR code for the playlist on a flyer. Oliver designed it. This is a screening for a film that was never made. (The QR code was in the bottom left)
The last postcard was sent out in August. The list of recipients had basically doubled since January.
The last of the “desktop” webpages is actually filled with items that are incredibly significant once you have read the book.
One of the items on the desk linked to another “fake college radio show,” this one from later in college:
And another item linked to this page featuring clipped “listings” from Bay Area venues and theaters circa 1998-1999
Each block of listings links out to live concerts or videos from the era.
I don’t recall how this one was distributed, but there was another page like this that dropped in August/September. This one consisted of ads from the era, each one linking to a commercial, TV show, or news report from the time:
There was one last postcard in August, too! But these were only made to distribute to West Coast booksellers I met during a sales meeting.
In late September, the book was finally published! I made a sixty-minute “snippets” preview tape collaging together passages from the audiobook, musical interludes, movie dialogue, commercials. (Audio is here.)
Some tapes were for friends and family who had supported the book. I made a few tapes as exclusive giveaways and brought them around with me on pub date, when I visited about a dozen bookstores throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn to sign stock. I posted an itinerary and, if anyone wanted a tape, they were free to ask for one
I also had some t-shirts made based on Oliver’s flyer design. These were also given away to family and friends, but also people I met at bookstores
Our book launch event was at Pioneer Works. (It was, bizarrely enough, covered in the New York Times.) A band played spacy, ambient covers of 1990s alternative rock classics
People who purchased the book through Pioneer Works were given a zine I made consisting of scraps and images drawn from my 1990s zines. There were also bowls of matchbooks people could take.
In October, I did an event at Yu and Me Books, a bookshop in Chinatown. I wanted a community feel to it, so we built in a “zine swap.” Across the street from the shop is a basketball court where some friends in the Chinatown Basketball Club play on weekends. So we combined forces and this reading was a “Zine Swap and Three-Point Shooting Contest.”
The winner of the three-point shooting contest was given a special 1-of-1 cassette:
In November, I went to the West Coast for a week of readings and events. I made a special “West Coast Tour Edition” of the zine. Different cover and changes to about half of the content, but same concept (90s zine ephemera/scraps). These were given out primarily at California events.
When I returned from California, a J. Crew store in Manhattan hosted a small party for the book. They designed a few hats (drawing on references from the book) to give away that night
The last event of my book tour was in December. I wanted to use it as an opportunity to raise funds for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. I invited about a dozen writers to read on the subject of friendship.
The event was held at a furniture store in Chelsea, and I liked the idea of having people read in different parts of the store. I joked that it was a bit like the different “rooms” at a rave, and naturally it made sense to design a flyer that was in on that joke:
This was a sliding scale ticketed event, so I wanted to offer attendees something extra, too. I sent out a call to writers, friends, strangers to contribute to a zine about “listening to music with friends” (the working title of ‘Stay True.’) I ended up getting about 75-80 submissions and I published a limited run of the zine for distribution at the last book event.
That was supposed to be all. But in April I had a chance to do a reading in London, and since my book did not have a UK publisher, I made a short zine filled with 2-3 page long book excerpts
And that’s it! The idea was to offer folks a chance to step into the world of the book, even though they did not, at the time, know what the book was about. A lot of the references on these pages are actually clues, though I did not expect anyone to take them that way. Instead, these were just ways to evoke the feel and rhythms of a different period of time. It was a way to give people a little surprise in the mail and the opportunity for delightful distraction. To remind myself and others of how fun it is to make things.
I didn’t want it to move frictionlessly, though. The pages aren’t indexed on my site--there are even more than the ones here--and I wanted there to be little cul de sacs. Much like the primitive 1990s Internet, it was meant to feel vast yet manageable.
(Not for public distribution)