Singing Karaoke Only I Can Hear the Music To*: An Interview with Giancarlo DiTrapano

Image of neon red lights.

Gian wrote: “Everyone lately is looking at life in frames. Like there’s some kind of story that follows and makes sense.”

The topic of conversation was buzzwords of 2021 so far. Armed insurrectionists was floated. AstraZeneca RNA vaccine was, too—milestone phrases of the horrorscope zeitgeist, and we were just three months into the year.

Gian’s final answer? Narrative.

“It’s super delusional of us. I love it.” 

Looking at life in frames, perhaps like thumbs and forefingers squaring out a visual field, or cartoon panels, or concatenated selfies. However we view things and whatever narrative we tell ourselves to make sense of it all and identify our place within it. 

Though he didn’t exclude himself from the party—it’s delusional of us. With some wry absurdism, he’s in on it, too. 

And he loves it.

For a book publisher like Gian—a purveyor of trade make-believe—labeling “narrative” senseless is a paradoxical statement. Like, would Magellan have said it’s silly that water keeps his ship afloat? Gotta believe in the craft that carries you along the medium, don’t you? 

But Gian would probably point out that the ocean doesn’t pay any mind to what’s using it, i.e., it’s not like life cares how it’s being experienced, nor by whom. 

But that doesn’t mean we can’t get a kick out of the ride.

No doubt Gian was a fiction philosopher like this, possessing insight into the reality and potentialities of the written word. But, too, he was a fiction artist: he had a unique talent to express his creative vision, publishing stories through his press, Tyrant Books, that the contemporary fiction landscape needed to not only be exposed to, but to be swayed toward. He curated the broad narrative.

And he was a fiction hustler—founder-Editor-hypeman of Tyrant, a gutsy, nonconformist small press** that publishes stone-cold realism novels alongside alt-lit and autofiction, stories and novels that otherwise wouldn’t get a breath of interest from major publishing houses that have begun to use spreadsheets and focus groups to determine book marketability and ROI before signing contracts. 

He took chances. In 2015 Tyrant published first-time novelist Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life with an initial print run of about 3,000. Preparation is the ideal beach read if you find yourself sunning on an active volcano shoreline. And a tourist hands you a gun. And the gun is hot. Preparation quickly gained readership, and its ensuing print runs—the novel being in high demand—got an important book cover makeover: the PEN/Faulkner Award logo was slapped on the front. It was big exposure for Lish as well as a small press like Tyrant, and it was well-deserved. 

You could call it “good” as in taste, not luck. Gian on his decision to pick it up: “Every line was a knockout. Like, [Lish] could have published this as a novel or twenty volumes of poetry if it had been typeset differently.”

Try, for instance, this Preparation for the Next Life passage between a Uyghur immigrant and an army vet:

   I can’t get rid of you. Maybe it’s the pizza. Or maybe it’s something else you’re getting from me, he said.

    It was his camouflage, she told him. His army jacket. It was his poncholiner. It’s your boots. I love your boots.

    Howbout this? he asked and pulled his shirt up. Is it the shrapnel in my back? Is it my war?

    I love your war, she said.

When asked to drop a definitive Tyrant quote, Gian replied: “I love your war.” Out of context this sounds like irreverent sarcasm. In the text it’s pure heart muscle. Either way it’s Tyrant.

In 2017, Tyrant published Eugene Marten’s Firework, a criminally under-recognized novel written with the same uncompromising sturdiness and depth as Preparation. The novel showcases Jelonnek, a character who moseys listlessly headlong toward inevitable social-structure powerlessness. Gian as the Editor: “I took part in the title—it was Jelonnek’s Armageddon and then Rat of the World, but I wasn’t into those. So Marten was driving cross-country and saw a ‘fireworks’ sign with the s fallen off, and the title was born.” Then Gian, the man: “Katy Perry’s songwriters stole the title for that song (I like to think).”

It’s a close relationship for an editor to have with their writer. Gian, on touring with Marten: “In the early days we would just drive around down south. New Orleans, Atlanta, et cetera. It was a lot of fun until it wasn’t.” He was tight-lipped about this latter part. From someone with a history of larger-than-life playboy antics, it can only be inferred. 

“Now the writer mostly does that on their own since I’m an ocean away.”

Gian had gone back and forth between New York and Italy, where the DiTrapano family owned the equivalent of a castle. It was in Rome at the American Academy Library that he edited another Tyrant anomaly, LIVEBLOG by Megan Boyle, a 700-page experimental work of autofiction in which Boyle divulges the unrefined yet humanistic sagacity of young adulthood alongside instances of far too extrapolated ampheta-mathematics, comparing the ratio between the speed of light to the speed of her thoughts. 

Gian: “I read LIVEBLOG when it was actually being liveblogged and emailed Megan saying that I wanted to publish it. I knew it was rare sublime balls-to-the-wall shit, and it kind of needs to be in print to be considered by the literary media. And it deserved to be in print.”

700 pages, and yet: “LIVEBLOG is the book I have read and reread the most.” He might have been her biggest fan. 700 pages, and was there any notion to shorten the novel? Gian: “Hell no.”

“An editor owes an author the patience and understanding to put out the best version of the book possible.” Alternatively: “An author owes a reader the time the reader invests in their book. Don’t waste anyone’s time.” And, finally: “Looking at my catalog just tells me more about myself and my own tastes without really considering it while it is happening. They always surprise me. The fact that they can sit down and write blows my lazy mind.”

*

For a brief time in early April 2021, “Giancarlo DiTrapano” was showing up everywhere online. News broke that Gian had died on March 30, 2021. 

Through the spring he and I traded emails about 2021 buzzwords and Tyrant press and his personal vision. Things went unfinished. 

Gian had mentioned an inchoate small press he would soon start simply called “DiTrapano,” a break from Tyrant Books. It’s unknown what his press might have produced. He mentioned his work at the Mors Tua Vita Mea Workshop, a writer’s retreat in his family estate in Italy. I’m sure its facilitators and participants would agree that the workshop is now awfully low on blood.   

What did Gian leave behind? About thirty Tyrant titles, to date all hand-selected. When I asked what book he would recommend to a friend, a family member, or a stranger, he answered, “Hill William or Preparation. But I always push LIVEBLOG.” 

Want something cool to talk about today and tomorrow and in the next ten years? Go read the books. Believe Gian’s vision. And hit me up when you do, there’s enough narrative delusion to go around for all of us. He’d love it.

Check out Tom Ostemeyer’s interview with Jordan Castro, editor of Tyrant Books Magazine here.

____

* Gian’s take on eulogizing: “I would take the mic and pretend I didn’t even know I was at a funeral …”

** It might be telling that Tyrant’s logo is a posterized still of James Spader’s aviatored and pre-lit-cigarette face in the movie “Pretty in Pink” right before he calls Molly Ringwald’s character a rather ugly gendered slur. Too cool for school, yes, confrontational, yes, offensive, yes; but in the movie it’s the exact moment of hurtfulness coming from someone hurt. You’ll find that theme and those traits running through a lot of Tyrant books. Spader’s image is emotional proxy.

It’s 11,222:1, if anyone is curious. (This hasn’t been peer-reviewed.)

Mors Tus Vita Mea translates from Latin to “your death, my life,” a medieval battle cry.

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