On a sunny spring afternoon, a small group of writers gathers at the hip Bowery Poetry Club in downtown Manhattan to read their work to a modest audience. Alongside his enthusiastic peers, with their dramatic body language and emotional oration, 23-year-old Tao Lin gives little away. He holds his book close to his face and barely opens his mouth when he reads. There's little expression in his face and no eye contact with the audience. Nevertheless, when it's all over Lin is showered with compliments. 'I just want to say it's brilliant,' gushes one woman. Lin offers a shy grin in return. The pattern carries through to our interview, when Lin is more focused on fiddling with his fingers than answering questions. 'I'm more shy than most people and feel nervous around people,' he says. 'A doctor would diagnose me with social anxiety disorder but I don't think it's a problem.' However, in the indie and online literature community, Lin is anything but quiet. His novel, Eeeee Eee Eeee, and a collection of short stories, Bed, have just been published by New Jersey publisher Melville Housein in a double fiction debut. Even before this, Lin was far from unknown. He's had a poetry collection published and his work has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Noon and Bear Parade. He edits online poetry magazine 3:AM and his blog, Readers of Depressing Books, is a popular platform for discussions among independent writers and editors. But what helped Lin secure a spot on the gossip website gawker.com - and inclusion on the list of young writers that readers and critics consider most worth watching - are the controversies he's stirred. He once cancelled the publication of his own book because he didn't agree with the editor's suggestions, and upset a magazine editor by sending her a story that had already been published elsewhere. The editor tried to organise a boycott of his work. Lin used the argument as fodder for a debate on his blog about the mission of non-profit publications. But even those who've had run-ins with him admit Lin is a very good writer. 'God, he's talented. That's what makes this harder,' said Whitney Pastorek, the editor who sent out the boycott call in a mass e-mail. Lin chooses to use his talent in a 'passive aggressive' way. The plot of Eeeee Eee Eeee (the sound made by dolphins in the book) is like a bizarre dream. It's populated by a plethora of characters who are nevertheless depressed, bored and lonely, and living like zombies. They include a pizza delivery guy and budding author; dolphins who have murdered celebrities such as actor Elijah Wood and director Wong Kar-wai; and the US president in a sushi bar lecturing a moose, a bear, a dolphin, an alien and some humans about the meaninglessness of power and patriotism. Such downbeat absurdity is also evident in Bed. 'Tao Lin writes from moods that less radical writers would let pass - from laziness, from vacancy, from boredom. And it turns out that his report from these places is moving and necessary, not to mention frequently hilarious,' says fellow writer and artist Miranda July. Lin admits his characters often mirror himself. 'I have, in the past, been as lonely and depressed as some of the characters in my books, and I'm sure I will feel as lonely and depressed again in the future,' he says. 'But I'm different from the characters. In the books, they might just lie on the floor. In real life, I go to the computer and type.' Born in Virginia to Taiwanese immigrant parents who are both physicians, Lin grew up in Florida. He was talkative as a child, he says. He had many friends and got good scores in school but cheated in many tests 'just to relieve boredom'. The tipping point came in his first year in college when he broke up with his girlfriend. 'We had mutual friends and I stopped talking to all of them and focused on writing,' he says. He's had few friends since. Lin's view of literature and life has a lot to do with this chosen loneliness. 'It's not because I don't have many friends, but because things can only occupy one space in time at one moment,' he says. 'I'm the only person who can know how I feel.' Like his characters, Lin has been floating passively through life. He went to New York University and chose journalism as a major in his senior year because that seemed the only option. He didn't graduate because he owed the library money for overdue books. It was at a writing class at university that Lin discovered his talent. 'The teacher said that I could 'do a lot of damage, in a good way' and that encouraged me,' he says. Lin took a number of jobs, working in each for only a short time before quitting. Now he writes full time. 'I plan on never having a real job again,' he says. 'I just don't like doing work that's uncreative and controlled by someone else.' But Lin isn't completely aimless. 'My goal in life changes every moment but generally it's to do things that I think will reduce pain and suffering in the world,' he says. This is perhaps the key to understanding Lin. He's a vegan. He refuses to use abstract words such as 'love' and 'hope' because abstraction is a source of pain and suffering. 'I don't believe in anything that is an abstraction, that I cannot touch in reality. I try to be more specific,' he says. He hates racism, another source of pain and suffering. But Lin's conception is broad. He says, for example, that an Asian person launching a magazine or starting a club for the sole purpose of promoting Asian culture falls into the same category. 'It's just saying Asians are better than white people,' says Lin. 'People shouldn't be proud of something they have completely no control over. They didn't choose to be born as Asians.' Prolific though he is, Lin says he doesn't consider writing his main purpose in life. Rather, it's a way for him to work toward a more general goal. 'If I write about a depressed person who doesn't do anything about his depression, that makes me feel better, makes other people feel better, and hurts no one. If the character in the fiction joined the Peace Corps instead, that would not help anyone. But in real life I wrote the story, which is something productive, instead of just feeling depressed,' he says. Still, Lin says any life goals are only ever semi-serious. 'I will do it knowing that I'm just playing a game,' he says. 'But without a consistent goal it's difficult to have relationships with people, and I would like to have a good relationship with at least one person, to feel less lonely.'