Mandy Brownholtz has been working in the DIY music scene in New York City for years. Now, she’s expanding her creative outlets to literature.
With the release of her debut novel Rotten, Brownholtz gives you a realistic fiction insight into an oppressive world. The story follows a young woman dealing with misogyny in a gritty D.C. music scene while also trying to get a grip on the current sexual politics. It’s raw, informative, and punk rock.
We chatted with Brownholtz below about Rotten, the music scene that inspired her, and more. Read the entire interview below.
BTRtoday (BTR): Tell me in one sentence, what’s the main takeaway you want your readers to have?
Mandy Brownholtz (MB): In one sentence? I guess it would have to be—when someone tells you their story, remove your judgment of their character from the equation and listen to them with respect and empathy.
BTR: This is your first published novel, so holy shit that’s very exciting! What inspired you to start writing this book in the first place?
MB: I started writing this novel in 2017 because big-idea concepts like “choice” and “consent” began to feel meaningless to me in a country that elected Donald Trump. I saw the ways this fundamental lack of respect for women funneled down from the highest places in our government to communities as microcosmic as DIY music scenes. That’s the community I knew, so I focused in on that.
BTR: Was there any kind of mantra you’d use to help push your creativity or to just keep you grounded during the writing process?
MB: Not really a mantra as much as a single-minded obsession. The first time I tried to write a novel I was ten years old. It’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do if I’m being totally honest with myself. With each draft finishing, it felt more crucial because of all the blood sweat, and tears that had gone into it.
BTR: Were there any frustrations or snags you encountered during the writing process or while you were trying to get Rotten published?
MB: Absolutely. It’s almost impossible to get a book published in 2021, especially if you don’t already have the social media clout or literary connections to bolster your manuscript. You basically need an agent to get in with any of the “Big Five” publishers, and to get an agent you basically need to be referred by someone with that existing relationship. For lack of a better term, I didn’t want this manuscript to “rot” in a desk drawer for ten years while I waited for someone to tell me I was “good enough,” whatever that even means.
BTR: Why did going the self-publication route end up being so important to you?
MB: I initially wanted the traditional route because it was really important to me to get that stamp of approval, that legitimacy. But as I got into the self-publishing process with Jonny (Campolo of P.E.) I realized how much more fun it is to have complete creative control on the final product. When you go take the traditional path a marketing team has the final say on your book’s branding. Jonny and I got to make a really beautiful, special object exactly the way we wanted it. Also, I get to keep 100% of the money. I put the e-book on Amazon because you basically have to for SEO purposes, and even with their self-publishing tool you only receive 35-70% of what the book costs. If you pick the greater royalty option or design the manuscript without using their tools, it shows up less in their algorithm as well. Basically, it’s trash but we all already knew that about Amazon.
BTR: Is there a line or short excerpt that sticks in your head or resonates extra hard with you?
MB: [Here’s] one of my favorite passages:
“You can’t simultaneously be the product of your environment and still choose your own destiny; your destiny was written in your bones before your existence, and bore you in to your environment without asking you. Everything you’ve ever read, watched, listened to; it all seeps into your flesh and makes you the person you are, and if that makes you the person you are, it affects every ‘choice’ you make” (143)
BTR: What was it like working with people in a DIY music scene while you were writing a book about a DIY music scene?
MB: Really sick! Because I got to work with people who understood the subject matter we were dealing with on a fundamental level, and it became this fun, scrappy, special “it takes a village” sort of thing.
BTR: What’s in store for the future of your writing?
MB: There are about a million things I’d like to do. I’m about 75 pages into a new manuscript for a novel. I want to still keep profiling amazing emerging female/nb artists for Audiofemme. But I’d also like to grow and expand the subject matter I write about beyond just music, thinking about bigger ideas and concepts, and making new relationships with new publications.
BTR: Anything else you wanna say about the book?
MB: Just that I hope people love it! I’ve spent my whole career talking about other people’s art, so it’s weird and different to be sharing something that I made. I have greater respect for the courage and vulnerability musicians/artists/writers have for sharing work.