like Munroe are signing on with big publishers and early
reports suggest they're not dumbing down or straightening
out for the privilege."
("Heady zine scene permeates
mainstream", Toronto Star)
Contents: Paul Lukas on Fame and Fortune; Sellout Rhetoric;
Flirting With the Man; The Continuing Adventures of Flyboy;
The Top Ten Ways Jim's Changed.
The book deal looms
large in our cultural imagination. For writers, its a ticket
to a place theyve heard about all their lives
a destination where the buffets are free, it
never rains, and theres all the time in the world
to chit-chat by the pool. A holiday in the sun. When
they get there, some find theres few vegetarian
options at the buffet. They long for rain to echo their
mood on sad days. And the people who lounge by the pool
are silent, wondering how much the others paid for the
Ive been on holiday for a year now
and Im not what youd call silent. My opinion
is that the whole thing is overrated. I published my
zines and books myself for eight years before I signed
with HarperCollins so unlike many writers, this
wasnt my first trip away from home and I wasnt
as giddily excited. A lot of people
will consider me ungrateful, but that presupposes that a publisher
is doing a writer a favor a power imbalance that
impacts our culture considerably. In the interest of
draining some of the guild-like power of the publishing
world and putting it in the hands of artists, Ive
decided on full disclosure. Theres a weird complicity
of silence between publishers and authors not to discuss
what goes on, mostly because both the houses and the
authors stand to gain stature from the public assuming
million-dollar advances. So from the dollar figures
to the emotional repercussions, this zine is my effort
to arm writers with some realistic expectations. Consider
it a straight-talkin travel guidebook as compared
with the glossy brochure.
But Im hardly the only zinester whos
been exposed to the mainstream. Theres something
about us rebellious self-publishers a combination
of things, probably that makes us critical of
attention and success. This issue has a variety of perspectives
on going mainstream that help to demystify the process,
a cold compress
on the brow of our fame-inflamed world.
Paul Lukas on Fame and Fortune
HITS: Beer Frame started
as a zine that reviewed products. Then it was a column
in New York Press. Then the columns
were collected in a book, Inconspicuous Consumption.
And that was just the beginning. What happened next?
Paul Lukas: Once I got the book deal done,
thats when I started wondering, "I wonder
if I can get out of New York Press into somewhere
bigger and maybe quit my job..." Its always
been in all of my contracts that I can reprint whatever
I do in Beer Frame the "Beer Frame
Clause" its important to me that
I still be able to do that.
Did you ever consider the idea of going
syndicated in the weeklies?
I tried to get alterna-weekly syndication
in 1994, but, as I quickly discovered, most of the papers
in question have little money and even less space, and
I couldnt crack their pages.
I asked my agent if it was possible
I was amazed wed taken it this far do you
think we could trick a magazine into taking this concept?
She said maybe, do you want me to ask around? It turned
out to be New York magazine, thats who
we tricked or whatever.
I was wondering about the use of "trick"
in this context. Obviously sticking it to the man is
a big part of underground culture and I know
that Im amazed theyre giving me money to
write what I write, that I feel like Im getting
away with something but do you really believe
that youre pulling a scam?
Not a scam so much I probably over-rely
on the term "trick" for conversational purposes.
Its not so much an issue of deception its
more that, given the traditional media worlds
attitude toward zines (usually some mixture of scorn,
indifference, and condescension), I think its
pretty hilarious that Ive taken a zine concept
and ridden it into the mainstream press. So its
more like "a neat trick" than "tricking
someone," if you know what I mean.
Were there bad feelings at New
York Press when you took your column to New
As for New York Press, there were
no bad feelings when I left they basically said,
"Thats great good luck!" and
I basically said, "Thanks I hope I can still
write for you from time to time." I do continue
to write for them, and am still listed as a contributor
in their masthead.
Have you had a backlash from the zine
For whatever reason, Ive had a total
of only two negative responses from the zine world
at least that have been made clear to me. Between the
book, going to corporate magazines, being on Conan
OBrien twice, I was waiting for people to
yell sellout. And of course ambition is a very politically
incorrect thing to have in any kind of underground scene.
Cause youre always supposed to be doing
it for love or whatever, be a slacker ambition
isnt looked upon very well.
Can you fault that? Isnt it a part
of the point of having a counterculture, that traditional
values are inverted?
I consider this an extremely weak and limiting
concept of what a counterculture can be. It sounds like
an all-purpose excuse for not having any standards of
quality, any discriminating taste, and yes, any ambition.
I dont view these elements as "traditional
values" I see them as basic prerequisites
for any cultures organic growth. Simply "inverting
traditional values" (simply for inversions
sake..?) doesnt strike me as particularly progressive,
especially since its exclusively reactive. Given
the degree to which apathy, slackerdom, and underachievement
seem to be championed in various underground circles,
one could even claim that ambition is a genuinely radical
countercultural concept. I want it make it clear that
Im not making that claim Im
just pointing out how silly these notions of countercultural
strictures can be.
To my mind I hadnt changed anything,
it was the same writing Id always been doing.
I guess everyone could see that or else just no one
gave a shit. For the most part, people seemed really
happy for me. So no one accused me of selling out the
scene maybe because Ive never been a major
player on the scene. I just do my magazines, I dont
hang out at zine conventions.
I exist in both worlds with literally the
same material. I write an article or a series of articles
for Fortune and then a few months later I reprint
it in my zine because theres a lot of people out
there who dont read Fortune and who can
blame them. So I get to work both sides of the street.
But Im not working for Fortune, Im
working for me. When I get tired of it Ill do
something else. Im happy to be able to do it in
a way that lets me make a living off of it, Im
well aware of how lucky I am in that regard.
Did the mainstream media outlets know
Beer Frame started off as a zine?
[An editor at New York magazine] said
"Hey, you should call this editor I know at Fortune,
they might be interested." I made it clear that
yes, it started as a fanzine, and no I dont think
they did care. It was to their credit that they didnt.
For some editors it would be too big a credibility problem.
Theyd hear that and think "unprofessional,"
"amateur"... at this point I dont think
they think of me as the columnist whos also a
zine editor, just as the marketing columnist. There
may have been a bit [impressed] at Spin, Im
not sure. I dont think it plays into the equation
all that much.
When I did TV... they all knew what I did,
but I dont think they had a really good idea of
what a zine was. They just thought of me as "wacky."
The whole zine thing was just part of my eccentricity
quotient, a larger fringe ratio.
"I dont really know all the details,
but its weird and its cool."
Conan OBrien definitely wanted
me to be wacky. I dont want to go on that show
again. Theyve asked me to come back and Ive
come up with excuses not to. I just didnt find
it a very satisfying experience. Conan himself is kind
of a scene stealer.
When you first decided to go on Conan,
did you know about Dishwasher Pete pranking Letterman?
[Pete sent a friend who did the interview pretending
to be him for the full story see Dishwasher
#14] Obviously you chose a different route,
but how did this precedent affect you?
Did Petes Letterman scam predate
my first Conan appearance? Im not sure
that it did Im unsure of the time frame.
In any case, if I did know about it at the time, the
precedent didnt really occur to me. I dont
watch late-nite TV, and I had never watched Conan
OBrien even once prior to agreeing to go on
the show. In between the time I agreed to go on and
my first appearance, I watched exactly once the
night before I went on. I didnt really have much
of an opinion on him one way or the other, so the notion
of pulling a prank without any contextual background
never occurred to me. Anyway, I dont really see
the connection Petes a zine editor and
Im a zine editor, so Im somehow supposed
to do what he did? Again, this seems like a very silly
stricture to me why should his behavior govern
mine? Id also like to think that theres
a lot more to Pete and me than our roles as zine editors.
Maybe hes just more of a prankster than I am.
Or more shy around cameras. Or whatever. I really dont
see the way that he (or anyone else) conducts himself
in the media spotlight as being particularly relevant
to the way I choose to conduct myself in similar situations.
And while I dont know him all that well, I suspect
that the last thing hed ever want to be is a role
Can you talk about the CNN spot?
I would do a five-minute spot of Inconspicuous
Consumption once a week where Id talk about
products. It was live... I developed a respect for the
anchors who had to be on, really on. You cant
be depressed and not in a talking mood that day, it
was impressive on a certain level. I quit doing it when
I decided Id learned everything I could. I could
have learned more had they been willing to give me more
explicit direction... but there werent the resources
for that. If they had been willing to work with me more,
to make me better... I felt like I took it as far as
I could myself. I wasnt bad, but I wasnt
I dont think Ill be doing any
more TV. I dont think it did a damn thing for
me. Thats not really why I did it. Every so often
I get a letter from someone saying, "I saw you
on Conan." CNN is a respected brand name,
but its a cable station and not many people watch
it especially in the middle of the day. I didnt
get much response from it. It was a kick at first, but
I quit when I realized I liked saying "I have a
regular spot on CNN" more than I liked actually
having a regular spot on CNN.
How is audience feedback different in
the mainstream and underground?
Anyone whos capable of finding a zine
is a more passionate, driven person. I get infinitely
more feedback from the 3000-5000 people who read Beer
Frame than the millions who read the magazine where
my column appears. Thats certainly one of the
reasons I continue doing the zine, I like staying in
touch with interesting people.
It is sort of a drag that Im writing
for Fortune and Money... no one I know
reads those magazines, probably no one I want to know,
and I do kind of miss that about the weeklies. Thats
why I do the zine.
But I dont write for Fortune readers.
I write for a guy named Rob Norton, who hired me. We
understand each other and as a result we work well together.
Most of the work Ive done has been the result
of a connection between myself and some editor at a
magazine whos been able to convince the powers-that-be
that hey, this guy has something to offer. If you can
have that kind of personal relationship, then it almost
feels like a collaboration its very rewarding.
Why do you think youve been able
to be so commercially successful? Why doesnt it
happen more often in the zine world?
I feel like this all happened by accident.
Maybe a lot of zine people dont have aspirations...
I didnt have aspirations to make a living off
it myself. Most of the work came looking for me... I
think thats because my subject matter is broader,
its not about weird music or weird politics or
weird anything... as an "underground concept"
its not really that out there... its not
out there at all.
Are you uncomfortable with being complicit
with the media conglomerates that own the magazines
your writing appears in?
While theres something to be said about
divesting yourself of big bad evil companies... I dont
think theres anything unique about media in that
regard, none of us should really be drinking Coke either,
or Budweiser... and while I respect people who live
in the woods in a shack, Im not prepared to live
that way. I do what I can to be a better person, I give
money to certain places, I wont drink Coors. Theres
very few products I boycott. The fact that Im
not Gandhi says a lot more about him than it does about
Do you think Beer Frame has
a political impact?
If anything, I like to think that writing
eccentric weird little articles is undermining whatever
horrible scheme theyre supposedly launching. But
I dont really believe that either. I dont
have any illusions that Im shaking the foundation
lets get real. But at the same time, I
dont feel like Im fitting in to their agenda,
assuming they have one.
Im not into giving answers, but I do
like asking questions. Asking the question that might
go unasked challenging people to think more is
the essence of politics. Social politics rather than
For a copy of Beer Frame send $3 cash/check/money
order to Paul Lukas, 160 St. Johns Place, Brooklyn,
Sellout Rhetoric: Good or Bad?
Every social construct needs some form
of control. In many subcultures its sellout rhetoric.
Heres some quick shots at this absurd-yet-vital
Sellout rhetoric is good
... because it empowers youth in their purity,
since theyve had less time and cause to compromise.
This allows a subculture to regenerate itself constantly.
It also limits the power of old-timers, since theyre
more likely to have made compromises.
Sellout rhetoric is bad
...because everyone loves someone whos
sold out. "Hi Mom, Id like to hang out with
you but you totally sold out to the forces of capitalism
and the institution of marriage."
Sellout rhetoric is good
...because it shows that some people can
generate a system of ethics and tribal responsibility
based on rational discourse rather than dogma.
Sellout rhetoric is bad
...because some other people are happy to
plug Punk into their empty religion slot and be just
as moralistic and fanatical as any Christian.
Sellout rhetoric is good
...because by saying that profit is bad it
serves to counteract everything else in the world constantly
telling us that profit is good. A balance of these two
memes is healthy.
Sellout rhetoric is bad
...because punks cant do math. The
standard $1 zine and $5 show was a standard set 15,
20 years ago. If someone charges more, theyre
merely guilty of factoring in inflation.
Sellout rhetoric is good
...because if someone is profiting off punk
rock, theyre profiting off a culture that has
grown in opposition to capitalism, and sellout rhetoric
gets people to think about the debts and the responsibility
they owe to their scene.
Sellout rhetoric is bad
...because the only definitive and authoritative
"Are You A Sellout?" quiz was published in
Maximumrocknroll #58, and no one read it because
the layout was so shit.
Flirting With The Man
By Rusty Shovel
A big problem with the debate around selling
your soul is that its rarely considered an incremental
or temporary arrangement. Once you sign on the dotted
line, your avant-guard ideological framework quickly
degenerates into snorting cocaine off the flattened
stomachs of 17-year-old prostitutes.
But consorting with the enemy shouldnt
be an all-or-nothing proposition. Doing a freelance
article for Details doesnt mean you have
to throw away your indie rock albums and replace them
with the Dave Matthews Band. A few concessions or contradictions
can be healthy (at least in the financial sense) and
theyll hopefully give you the opportunity to redeem
yourself even more significantly than you otherwise
might have. Beck is allowed to release entire albums
on other labels, and hes been able to balance
major label machinery with street cred rather well.
Most of my tentacles are "alternative"
in nature. Im in an indie rock band; I used to
be the managing editor of a well-known anti-establishment
rag; I publish my own zines; Ive organized one
zine fair and co-organized another; Ive been published
in Canadian art mags Broken Pencil and Borderlines.
But one tentacle is dangling precariously
in the offices of a Toronto company here within
referred to as "The Firm" that specializes
in elucidating others about the feelings of the 18-35
year old demographic. Im one of their freelance
advisors apparently my lifestyle and ideas are
interesting and representative enough to be considered
important. I was recommended to The Firm by a friend
who felt that I was a subversive squeaky wheel that
might squeal under the right circumstances. He was right.
As onerous as the word "demographic"
might sound, and as much as I loathe the idea of a company
that can create tidy generational categorizations that
provide ad agencies with the grist needed to sell more
soda pop, my work for The Firm has been more flexible
and enjoyable than I imagined enjoyable enough
to justify my continued work for them, and profitable
enough to use a pseudonym for this article. Ironically,
I just started working on project so innocuous, so enjoyable
and so anti-corporate that Id clear my name by
describing it but I signed an anti-disclosure
clause so their propriety research tools remain just
In my case, the line between independent
culture and corporations is hazy. I cant say Im
wildly overpaid for my work (which is usually a key
benefit of evil), nor have I been forced to reveal hard
won secrets about indie culture that would earn me a
label like "traitor." The Firm covets me because
I can articulate the benefits of reducing our consumption
or why we should fight increased ad intrusion. My insights
into the machinations, manufacture and dissemination
of popular culture add a unique and tasty flavour to
their buffet of opinion makers.
So what exactly do I do? Lets say the
Apple Marketing Board of Canada asks The Firm to discover
how to best sell apples to young people. The Firm picks
a few of their representatives (people who eat lots
of apples, some or none at all) and then provides a
format for the discussion of all things apple. After
picking our brain, The Firm synthesizes trends and suggests
ideas the AMBC could use, like say, putting a "New
and Improved" sticker on each apple, or having
a strong Internet presence.
Im free to mention as little or as
much of my "radical" ideas as I see fit. In
fact, if I was lazier, or perhaps smarter, I could simply
get away with saying the exact opposite of whatever
topic or idea is being debated. Sometimes I find myself
slipping into such a dialectic anyway (Advertising is
bad. Watching too much TV is bad. Expressing individuality
through purchases is bad.) because its a lot easier
than communicating the nuances of my opinions and passions.
Its a syndrome I call corporate shrill rather
than corporate shill. Is explaining zine culture to
a group of demographic headhunters a worthwhile endeavor?
I have yet to conclusively decide.
The Firm doesnt want or need my input
on all projects, and they give me the freedom to turn
down any assignment they might offer me, without fear
of reprisal. This makes the rationalizations and explanations
to friends that much easier. "Sure, theyve
done work for major breweries, but I only work on the
cool, non-beer projects." The fact that tainted
money is paying a few of my bills quickly slips by the
wayside. Not that I dislike beer per se hell,
I like beer plenty but you wont see me
helping a particular brewery discover how to sell more
beer to my friends.
Retaining my street cred (whatever that is
and however much I might have) has been easy, since
almost none of my friends give a rats ass about
what I do for The Firm. Which is an interesting point
in itself, because it means the daily battle between
good and evil is contained mostly inside my cranium,
rather than the salons and coffee houses that I haunt.
Which is why, I suppose, Im writing this article.
Not to exonerate myself so much as prove that I actually
do think about my choices and how they reflect upon
myself and my work.
You can deride or mock me
Its been done before
I wont get on my knees for you
I wont be your record business whore
Write Record Release Blues (Jesus
and Mary Chain)
Isolating an artists contradictions
is as intellectually challenging as channel surfing.
The more important point is that most artists have (or
should have) a line in wet cement. Sometimes that line
gets redrawn, blurred, or "disappeared" but
if youre lucky or smart, it is crossed rarely,
if at all.
Having the clarity of mind and strength of
memory to remember where my line is located is important.
Im sure other independent artists will understand
what I mean when I describe a kind of tingling, "spidey"
sense when something or someone that youre working
for is more distasteful than tasteful. "Sure, I
guess I could rework that paragraph to remove the reference
to Nikes overseas labour practises . . ."
Sometimes you use the tingling to fight corporate petty
crime and say "no," and sometimes you ignore
And sometimes, the tingling makes
you curious enough to see what might happen. Im
now a freelance writer, and I recently completed an
article which Im very proud of for
a magazine which Im only nominally impressed with.
The money was good, very good in fact, and this produced
two reactions 1) it made the distaste quickly dissipate
and 2) the higher stakes made me wonder if I could actually
pull it off. Could I actually write an article of a
high-enough caliber, to a deadline, for a big name magazine?
As it turned out, I could. And as it turned
out, my end product was treated exceptionally well
I was consulted for all major changes, and generally
had a great time.
Im sure curiosity drives other artists.
Us indie kids are always told not to touch the electric
fence of the corporate world because the caricatured
men with big guts puffing on stogeys will eat us alive
and turn us evil with a snap of their fingers. But we
also wonder, in varying degrees, if we have enough talent
to actually produce the "pap" that cavorts
as professional calibre work.
The smugness derived from saying "I
could do that but I dont wanna" is empty
calories if you dont have the talent to back up
your sentiments. While the indier-than-thou philosophy
has allowed artists to realize that major label validation
is not required to produce important and financially
successful music, it has also produced a group of bleating
sheep critics that are ideologically rigid for the sake
of rigidity. Some of the most frustrating conversations
Ive ever had are with indier-than-thou types whove
never actually done anything. Which shouldnt shock
me, I suppose, since detailing the cartography for a
Sellout Roadmap is infinitely easier than actually negotiating
the hundreds of little twists and turns that real life
offers. If I had a chance to chat with Ian MacKaye,
I would have nothing but respect and admiration for
his choices, explanations and opinions because hes
put theory into practise. Sadly, most indier-than-thou
navel-gazers live in a wonderful, conceptual world that
is never darkened by the shadow of dirty, slimy planet
Im not sure if this is the most original
or interesting observation, but its no surprise
that talent and issues of capitalist improprieties have
a rather tight confluence. Like a vindictive, angry
peasant who blames his failures on the more prosperous,
hardworking peasants, or resorts to supernatural explanations
for his lacklustre crop, the sellout bullhorn is often
used by those who least understand how much effort and
work selling out even temporarily requires.
But no ones bleating at me yet. And
I hope to keep it that way. By living cheaply, I can
stow away the money I make from "the bastards"
and give my time to causes that I find worthy and worthwhile.
If I write for Gear Magazine (which Im
trying to do) the sacks of gold they provide would allow
me to write articles for lefty magazines with shoestring
The danger, of course, is that one day Ill
figure out that I could be making a lot more money by
ignoring my ideals. Perhaps in a few more years, when
the remaining piss and vinegar of my youth is filtered
and drained away, Ill see things differently.
For now, the abrasions on my knees heal quickly. Im
no corporate whore but being felt up still holds
an illicit thrill.
Rusty Shovel can be responded to care of
Holiday in the Sun.
The Continuing Adventures of Flyboy
A few months after he acquired my novel,
Christian was "downsized" from HarperCollins
and I found myself, as they say in the industry, orphaned.
While I liked the people I was working with instead
fine, they didnt connect with my novel in the
same way he showed me he did. I doubt I would have been
offered a contract without his enthusiasm; I doubt I
would have been comfortable enough to sign it if he
He had been in a position to acquire books
for a few months before he found mine, and was fired
a few months after. I had a window of about six months,
I figure I havent met anyone else in mainstream
publishing who would have championed an unknown from
the slush pile like he did.
But in another way, it makes sense: by being
passionate about new, risky, writing he broke rank in
an industry that seems to pride itself on being quietly
literary. When it came down to the assessment of the
employees at HarperCollins, the intangibles he brought
to the job his ability to get people as excited
about my book as he was, for instance were overlooked.
Corporations are about producing more of the same product
(risk avoidance) and while having a flashy young spark
around every so often may jazz up the brand name, its
not valued in the same way that, say, accounting skills
Im still upset about this a year later.
Not just for the personal injustice to him but because
publishing needed more Christians, not less.
To be fair, I have no idea how Id feel
about him if Id gone through the whole process
with him. I might hate him now, for all I know. As it
was, my experience being orphaned was much better than
many I talked to the editor-in-chief about my
concerns and she was very reassuring. I always felt
like I had access to her and that she took special pains
to see I wasnt ignored. It was kind of like being
plucked out of the orphanage by a wealthy patron.
The Editing Process
Before the editors at HarperCollins saw it,
Flyboy had been read by a dozen talented first
readers and I had done a substantial edit based on their
comments. I was pleasantly surprised that the edits
that the HarperCollins folks wanted were comparatively
light, and that I was allowed to make the changes myself.
Their suggestions were intelligent and improved the
I was never asked to tone down the politics
in the novel. They had it read by a lawyer, but the
only part he deemed libelous was a statement made by
a character that Ken Saro-Wiwa had been assassinated
by Shell. So instead I had this character say that Shells
economic presence in Nigeria created the situation that
caused his death. I was quite comfortable with this
change, since I felt it actually made the statement
less bombastic and thus more believable.
The cover was designed by Terry Lau, whos
been my image man since we were in Grade 10. I came
up with the concept, but it was his idea to make it
entirely computer generated I figured wed
use photos. The first version of it was rejected (the
napkin holder was an unidentifiable monolith, and the
colours were different) and an alternate concept suggested.
At this point, having little faith in my own artistic
vision, I was ready to go with the new concept. But
Terry did a second version of the original concept as
well as the one they asked for, and they went for it.
He did it on spec (without guarantee of payment) but
got paid $1000 in the end, which I was happy about.
I came up with the idea for a squashed fly
to use as the break between sections. When I was suggesting
this weird little notion I realized how hierarchical
structures inherently resist innovation. Between me
and the person who had the power to approve the decision
were people who had to ask their superiors about something
they may have considered a flaky non-essential. And
if it was approved, it wasnt like they would get
the credit for it, anyway. In a big company, each person
it travelled through would distort the original enthusiasm/intent
further. Luckily, HarperCollins Canada was small enough,
and their minds open enough, that my suggestions were
met with enthusiasm and implemented.
I was shown the design for the page layout,
too. Each new chapter was marked with a coffee ring,
which I liked, and the chapter number was set in Trixie
font, which I very much didnt like. (Trixie was
a nice girl until she started working for the admen
then her broken typewriter letters were used
by every designer too lazy to figure out a new way to
connote gritty edgy urbanity.) I explained my dislike
of the font, and that people in the underground hadnt
used broken typewriters in a long time, and they changed
Publishers put out a catalog for booksellers
(for advance orders) and foreign publishers (to buy
rights to publish them in their countries). They needed
a description of the book, which I volunteered to write.
They needed a photo of me, which I didnt have,
and for a while it looked like I was going to have to
pay for it myself. I complained to the ed-in-chief and
she agreed to pay a surrealist shutterbug friend of
mine for the cost of materials and a token fee: $100
in total. I was proud of the presentation, but ashamed
of the fact that I began using the annoying hybrid word
In both the magalog and the back cover blurb,
I described the "realtime urban denizens"
that populated the novel, ending with: "indie rockers,
hardcore feminists, rave kids, and slackwater poets."
Since no one asked me, I didnt admit
that "slackwater poets" didnt exist.
No one in the media asked, either. Even after Mark Slutsky
and I wrote a script about the mythical neo-Victorian
subculture, few people caught on. A lot of people have
told me it sounds familiar, though, and I think that
the day I hear it bandied about by strangers in a cafe
I will weep with joy.
The galley the advance promotional
copy given to "key" media and those interested
in foreign rights I was given much less input
into. The cover was a black and white version of the
final cover, and the back cover copy was a weird excerpt
from the text in the magalog. I had wanted to do something
interesting: a blank white cover with a plastic fly
stapled to it was one idea. But that was overruled by
the publicity department, who said it was more important
to repeat the image several times traditional
marketing wisdom for an untraditional book. By the speed
they were going to production it also seemed like, despite
the months of advance notice, there was pressure from
higher up to get it out now.
I was focused on trying to make each detail
of the process interesting and creative, and it was
draining to try to fight against the way things are
New York Interest
Because I had not retained an agent, HarperCollins
was in charge of selling the foreign rights. Five publishers
in New York had seen the magalog and were interested
in getting a copy of the galley. Instead of just sending
them by mail, Iris flew down and pitched the book to
them: two were interested in purchasing it. It wasnt
exactly a bidding war more of a skirmish, really
and Avon ended up paying $15,000 (US) for the
rights to publish Flyboy in America. (This was
twice their original offer, which means if the other
publisher hadnt been involved I would have gotten
$7500. My writing doubled in worth because someone else
thought it was good, in other words.) After HarperCollins
20% commission and the American exchange it works out
to about $20,000 Canadian for me. At my current standard
of living, that should do me for two years.
Of course, it rarely works out that way.
Theres the simple pitfall of spending money you
dont have in hand, which means that you forfeit
your option to pull out of the deal or to seriously
negotiate contractual things; and theres the more
insidious lifestyle changes. You have arrived! Youre
a pro! You decide you can move into a more expensive
place, eat out a lot, have a kid fine things,
no doubt, but also things that increase your minimum
income exponentially. You lose a lot of maneuverability,
and consequently the compromises tend to get harder
to avoid.At this point, I tend to look at every check
as the last one Ill get.
So far, my experience at Avon has been frustrating.
I dont feel part of the process at all, despite
some token consultation. Adding to my detachment is
the fact that Ive already published the book here,
so even though its going to be released to a bigger
audience I dont care as much.
Theres been a lot of inquiries into
the option to make a movie of my novel. Having a clever
title and youth as a subject are what makes it sexy,
I suppose. I decided to go with a film agent, and now
I get calls every month from Beverly Hills.
I met him in a fancy restaurant when he was
in town for the film festival. Someone from HarperCollins
came too. At one point in the conversation the two of
them expressed their fears about media consolidation.
It was an odd thing to hear from people so involved
with the industry.
As neat as it potentially is, part of me
dreads the idea of getting an offer. First of all, even
if it is optioned by a studio I like, they can turn
around and sell it to anyone. Secondly, my female protag
could so easily be made into a stereotype Im
comfortable with her being curvy within the confines
of the printed word, but I think itd be hard for
her not to be exploited on film.
I had always had a healthy disregard for
the myth of the infallible professional, but sadly not
enough. When I finally got the copy of the book it was
not coated properly, despite my reminders before it
went to press; there was a spelling mistake on the back
cover; and the bio and authors photo had not been
included. This last one rankled particularly, since
the bio was to include my website address I had
worked for months on it, excited to see if people would
give me feedback if they had immediate access.
If I had been working with amateurs, I would
have insisted on double-checking everything myself in
its final form. Despite having worked as a professional
editor and having made lots of mistakes myself
I bought into the myth.
Other big publishers make mistakes, too.
Corporate specialization fragments a project into several
pieces, and creates lots of cracks for things to disappear
into. But art is about the details, damn it, and we
cant allow the structure to endanger them.
I wasnt worried about the reading
Ive figured out being relaxed, and letting the
audience be relaxed, is more important than a perfect
delivery. I was worried about the social dynamic, however,
because everyone I knew was going to be there and I
was only gonna be able to give them one minute and twelve
seconds each. And I was sure that some of them were
going to take it the wrong way, proof that Id
Of course there were a few guys I hadnt
seen in ages who were my new best friends. That hadnt
been invited but saw my face on the cover of Now
(Torontos alterna-weekly) and thought Hey
I know that guy! and now were cutting into other peoples
1 minute 12 seconds.
After Picastro finished their spellbinding
set, I went to the front room to get a glass of water
before my reading and I had to squeeze by a lineup of
people waiting to get into the back room! (I had to
resist telling the crowd that this Munroe kid didnt
nearly live up to his hype.) Since they couldnt
let anyone else in due to fire regulations, I did a
second (mikeless) reading in the front room.
There was a lot of people 150 or so
and a couple of TV cameras. I was just glad when
it was over that I could label it a success in my mind
and file it away. I had been thinking about it for a
year by that point, so I was really glad that it was
The Media Stuff
I got a lot of press for being critical of
Rupert Murdoch, the owner of HarperCollins, in the first
issue of this zine. I had one reporter tell me he was
thrilled to quote me calling Murdoch a manipulative
right-wing bastard, because "its kinda like
me saying it." I figure a lot of media people,
having tussled with compromises and hypocrisy themselves,
were intrigued for personal reasons even if they didnt
agree entirely with my stance.
I had exhilarating terrifying dreams of a
dragged out libel suit with Murdoch a la the McLibel
case, but I was either ignored or never noticed. The
people at HarperCollins were not thrilled by my statements
to the press, but didnt do anything to infringe
on my freedom to critique my corporate lineage.
My aim was to spotlight the danger of media
consolidation, to bring it into the public discourse.
I felt I was mildly successful. I was sometimes depressed
by the number of incomplete, half coherent quotes that
I knew to be half the reporters fault and half
mine. (Im not a writer for nothing Ive
often thought that if I could express myself to my satisfaction
verbally Id be in another line of work.) When
I appeared on TV I wondered if the average TV viewer
would understand why I was making these statements,
The reviews were most often raves or rants.
They had strange affects on me: one outrageously positive
one described the plot with the same words the press
release did, and I consequently lost my regard for the
reviewers praise. One critiqued me for being more
concerned with politics than plot, which pleased me:
what I dreaded was having written a mere love story.
One frothed that the hype Id gotten was undeserved
I quite agreed, although I was grateful for it.
One complained that I was politically correct, and his
conservative bias made him quite unsympathetic; but
Id gotten reviewers whos left-wing bias
made them sympathetic, so how could I complain?
The Top Ten Ways Jim's Changed Since the
hobby of sneaking up and surprising friends ruined by
jangling of heavy gold chains.
conversation with references to his numerous freight
hopping "attempts" in overstated and ill conceived
effort to maintain street cred.
caviar habit now at $500 per week.
two toes in recent namedropping incident.
to everyone, from his personal trainer to his own mother,
much scarier with his full set of gold teeth.
all debates with the phrase "I was on the cover
of Now, babe."
restaurant bills by scrawling a few sentences about
bugs and activism on the back of receipts.
invited to come out and play, he says he isn't feeling
well (babe), but Rupert Murdoch is heard giggling in