Neil Strauss, author of The Game and approved biographer of Jenna Jameson, Marilyn Manson, Mötley Crüe, and Dave Navarro, has paired off with fellow rock-star puffer Anthony Bozza (Eminem, Slash, Tommy Lee) to found Igniter, part of HarperCollins' new imprint for the kids, It Books. Given the duo's pedigree, it's not surprising that Bozza uses a music-business analogy to describe the alliance: "It's kind of like an indie record label that has distribution through a major label. We're not employees of Harper. We're not in the building."
The duo have already picked three of their outside-the-box projects (they plan to start with four). First they signed the late Larry Harmon's autobiography, The World According to Bozo the Clown. It may not be the most auspicious debut — "our first author died on us, which put a crimp in our plans," says Strauss. But they're moving forward with it. Then there's the tale of a woman, brought up as a traditional Muslim, who became "the most depraved rock groupie you've ever seen," Strauss says. "She enjoys pushing bands to extremes, like 'Whoa, that's too much for us!'" Also slated is the memoir of a mobster with the timely motto, "We don't kill you anymore, we kill your credit."
What's the governing philosophy? "My thought is two words: be interesting," says Strauss. "We're dealing with [readers] who think a four-minute YouTube video is painfully long. That's not even a chapter. And we're dealing with an industry that has a certain sense of what should and shouldn't be a book, and that sometimes shoots itself in its own foot."
He and Bozza may have a few tell-alls under their belt, but they're after different game. Strauss recently took a meeting with someone "in the news a lot," who said he'd have no problem revealing the unsavory bits of his past — like the fact that he'd hit and killed a pedestrian with a bus. "There was no emotion, there was no remorse, it was just a guy willing to exploit his life to sell a book," says Strauss. "Celebrities are doing just fine on their own," he says. "But who does need us is this woman who's got an amazing piece of writing, and a story that any editor who's seen it is revolted by it. They can't stop talking about it, but they won't publish it."
Like the very athletic groupie. "A lot of publishers feel pretty okay putting out novels like that or [fiction that is] even more revolting," says Bozza. "I think there's something about the fact that it's true that was an issue. Which I never got." Strauss says he tries to edify members of his mailing list by recommending books like Ulysses, Pale Fire, and As I Lay Dying. But he doesn't buy the whole highbrow-lowbrow thing. "I worked for the New York Times," he reminds us. "I've thought about low-culture versus high-culture obligations. People I find that are interesting live in both those worlds. I just think that's where the world is now. Intelligent writing about stupid topics can be a good thing."