Obscure satirist suddenly a best-seller
By DEBBIE HUMMEL
By DEBBIE HUMMEL
SALT LAKE CITY — For nearly 10 years, the Web site run by a man who goes by the name "Maddox" has amused and irritated thousands with a no-holds-barred brand of satire, leaving nothing sacred or safe.
The scathing commentary is so popular that Maddox's first venture into books is a best-seller before it has even been published.
"The Alphabet of Manliness" soared to No. 1 on Amazon .com's list of top sellers on March 28 and remained there for a few days. Three weeks later, it remains the top book on pre-order on the site, said Brad Parsons, a senior books editor at Amazon.com. The book is out June 6.
Then again, almost nothing about the book could be described as traditional. The content is a sort of dictionary of male bravado — "F" is for Female Wrestling, "N" is for Chuck Norris.
Maddox didn't spend years trying to shop his book to a publisher, a publisher approached him based on the popularity of his Web site. It's a model that's seen in several books this year, such as "Real Ultimate Power: The Official Ninja Book," by Robert Hamburger (pseudonym).
"I wasn't going to play those games where I send in letters and I get a rejection letter," said Maddox, 28, whose real name is George Ouzounian. "I have a fan base. I have people who are reading my material."
And a loyal fan base at that. With just one e-mail from Maddox to fans who had agreed to be contacted, the book took Amazon's top spot.
"It had a meteoric rise right to the top. What's unprecedented is that it stayed there for several days," Parsons said.
Amazon.com often sees such blasts. A mention by talk queen Oprah Winfrey can send a book to the top of the site's list, Parsons said. But they don't usually linger there very long, and because "The Alphabet of Manliness" is a debut book by an unknown author, it was all the more unusual, he said.
Maddox, who sometimes uses a cartoon pirate to illustrate himself on his site, estimates there have been more that 7,200 pre-sold copies of the book.
For a guy who runs a manly man's Web site, he's just what you'd imagine him to be in person — T-shirt, jeans and a physique shaped by spending hours in front of a computer or playing video games. He talks about how disappointingly unmanly his hands are, as compared to his father's, which he says are calloused from hard work — "they're real man's hands." And he takes pride in his ability to grow facial hair at what he believes is the manliest of rates — for Maddox it's an 8:05 a.m. shadow.
Maddox lives in a small apartment within walking distance of downtown Salt Lake City. He rents the place next door to run his Web site. T-shirts and boxes of stickers fill the second apartment nearly to the ceiling. Boxes of cereal, mostly Cap'n Crunch, cover one kitchen counter, and a small room in the back is filled with a computer desk that takes up all of one corner. There's only one chair, which Maddox is quick to give up to a guest.
He created a personal Web page — humbly named "The Best Page In The Universe" — to post his humor and opinions, in 1997.
"I created it to kind of spite my close friends and family members," he said. "At first, I received an entirely positive response — for the first two years, no hate mail. When I got my first hate mail, I was so stoked."
As his popularity grew, "The Don and Mike Show," a syndicated radio show based in Washington, D.C., asked him to produce an original satire. Maddox created a piece in 2002 called "I am better than your kids," where he harshly criticized children's art work. The hits on his Web site went from 200 to 2,000 the day after the program aired and grew from there.
His postings circulate on the Internet through word of text. One person discovers the site and forwards a link to others with a brief message like, "this is so funny," or "check this guy out."
According to Maddox, 110,000 to 150,000 people visit his site each day. Of those, about 25 percent are first-time viewers.
He doesn't have advertising or annoying blinking banners on his site, and says he loses revenue because of it. He pays $600 to $700 a month to keep the site's bandwidth. He quit his job as a programmer for a telemarketing company in 2004 and has been living off the money he makes from the sales of T-shirts and stickers from the site.
"I'm making enough to stay above water. Money is not my motivation. I could make between $10,000 and $12,000 per month on advertising," he said.
But Maddox, nicknamed for a Japanese anime robot he liked as a child, doesn't want to compromise his autonomy.
His fans are getting a type of writing and a type of voice that they're not seeing anywhere else, he said — "even on Comedy Central, you get censorship and all kinds of editing."
Much of the content is offensive and meant to be inflammatory. Maddox displays with pride the "hate mail" he gets and lampoons some of them in postings.
"Sometimes, I get very thoughtful e-mails from parents who investigate what their children are reading on the Internet — and I commend them for that," he said. But he feels their anger is misguided. "What's the worst that could happen? I challenge their views and they think about the issues that I'm raising."
Joe Greenberg, a 21-year-old chemical engineering student at the University of New Mexico, began reading Maddox's site in 1999 on the advice of a teacher.
"I was kind of a class clown, and my English teacher is actually the one who told me to check it out," Greenberg said. He said it's the no-holds-barred humor that's made him a fan. "There's nothing on TV or anything like it. It's kind of like an observational critique through satire."
Greenberg bought a copy of "The Alphabet of Manliness," and got his dad to buy one, too.
Maddox's book joins other Web authors turned book authors in the canon of bad-boy literature such as, "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell" by self-proclaimed Lothario, Tucker Max. He's the author of the Web site TuckerMax.com, where he chronicles his bad behavior while on a quest to get drunk and seduce women. The author of the Web site and magazine "The Modern Drunkard," Frank Kelly Rich, also has written a book using the name of his site. (All these sites include material that may offend some and is unsuitable for children.)
Jeremie Ruby-Strauss, a senior editor at Kensington Publishing Corp., is among the few who recognized that the audience numbers these guys pull on the Internet could translate to book sales. So he sought out Web authors for publishing deals.
"Being an avid Web surfer, I suppose I have a sense of the landscape and who's popular," Ruby-Strauss said, adding that the books have been an "unqualified success.
"I would theorize that these are men who are expressing something that people were hungry for," he said.
"It's male and it's adolescent in many ways, but I don't say that disparagingly. I think we have to love our guys."