"Continuing zinesters 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, it’s a ticket to a place they’ve heard about all their lives — a destination where the buffets are free, it never rains, and there’s all the time in the world to chit-chat by the pool. A holiday in the sun. When they get there, some find there’s 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 trip.

I’ve been on holiday for a year now and I’m not what you’d 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 wasn’t my first trip away from home and I wasn’t 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, I’ve decided on full disclosure. There’s 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 I’m hardly the only zinester who’s been exposed to the mainstream. There’s 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, that’s when I started wondering, "I wonder if I can get out of New York Press into somewhere bigger and maybe quit my job..." It’s always been in all of my contracts that I can reprint whatever I do in Beer Frame — the "Beer Frame Clause" — it’s 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 couldn’t crack their pages.

I asked my agent if it was possible — I was amazed we’d 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, that’s 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 I’m amazed they’re giving me money to write what I write, that I feel like I’m getting away with something — but do you really believe that you’re pulling a scam?

Not a scam so much — I probably over-rely on the term "trick" for conversational purposes. It’s not so much an issue of deception — it’s more that, given the traditional media world’s attitude toward zines (usually some mixture of scorn, indifference, and condescension), I think it’s pretty hilarious that I’ve taken a zine concept and ridden it into the mainstream press. So it’s 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 York magazine?

As for New York Press, there were no bad feelings when I left — they basically said, "That’s 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 community?

For whatever reason, I’ve 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 O’Brien 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 you’re always supposed to be doing it for love or whatever, be a slacker — ambition isn’t looked upon very well.

Can you fault that? Isn’t 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 don’t view these elements as "traditional values" — I see them as basic prerequisites for any culture’s organic growth. Simply "inverting traditional values" (simply for inversion’s sake..?) doesn’t strike me as particularly progressive, especially since it’s 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 I’m not making that claim — I’m just pointing out how silly these notions of countercultural strictures can be.

To my mind I hadn’t changed anything, it was the same writing I’d 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 I’ve never been a major player on the scene. I just do my magazines, I don’t 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 there’s a lot of people out there who don’t read Fortune and who can blame them. So I get to work both sides of the street. But I’m not working for Fortune, I’m working for me. When I get tired of it I’ll do something else. I’m happy to be able to do it in a way that lets me make a living off of it, I’m 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 don’t think they did care. It was to their credit that they didn’t. For some editors it would be too big a credibility problem. They’d hear that and think "unprofessional," "amateur"... at this point I don’t think they think of me as the columnist who’s also a zine editor, just as the marketing columnist. There may have been a bit [impressed] at Spin, I’m not sure. I don’t think it plays into the equation all that much.

When I did TV... they all knew what I did, but I don’t 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 don’t really know all the details, but it’s weird and it’s cool."

Conan O’Brien definitely wanted me to be wacky. I don’t want to go on that show again. They’ve asked me to come back and I’ve come up with excuses not to. I just didn’t 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 Pete’s Letterman scam predate my first Conan appearance? I’m not sure that it did — I’m unsure of the time frame. In any case, if I did know about it at the time, the precedent didn’t really occur to me. I don’t watch late-nite TV, and I had never watched Conan O’Brien 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 didn’t 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 don’t really see the connection — Pete’s a zine editor and I’m a zine editor, so I’m somehow supposed to do what he did? Again, this seems like a very silly stricture to me — why should his behavior govern mine? I’d also like to think that there’s a lot more to Pete and me than our roles as zine editors. Maybe he’s just more of a prankster than I am. Or more shy around cameras. Or whatever. I really don’t 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 don’t know him all that well, I suspect that the last thing he’d ever want to be is a role model.

Can you talk about the CNN spot?

I would do a five-minute spot of Inconspicuous Consumption once a week where I’d talk about products. It was live... I developed a respect for the anchors who had to be on, really on. You can’t be depressed and not in a talking mood that day, it was impressive on a certain level. I quit doing it when I decided I’d learned everything I could. I could have learned more had they been willing to give me more explicit direction... but there weren’t 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 wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t a natural.

I don’t think I’ll be doing any more TV. I don’t think it did a damn thing for me. That’s 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 it’s a cable station and not many people watch it especially in the middle of the day. I didn’t 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 who’s 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. That’s 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 I’m 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. That’s why I do the zine.

But I don’t 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 I’ve done has been the result of a connection between myself and some editor at a magazine who’s 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 — it’s very rewarding.

Why do you think you’ve been able to be so commercially successful? Why doesn’t it happen more often in the zine world?

I feel like this all happened by accident. Maybe a lot of zine people don’t have aspirations... I didn’t have aspirations to make a living off it myself. Most of the work came looking for me... I think that’s because my subject matter is broader, it’s not about weird music or weird politics or weird anything... as an "underground concept" it’s not really that out there... it’s not out there at all.

Are you uncomfortable with being complicit with the media conglomerates that own the magazines your writing appears in?

While there’s something to be said about divesting yourself of big bad evil companies... I don’t think there’s 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, I’m not prepared to live that way. I do what I can to be a better person, I give money to certain places, I won’t drink Coors. There’s very few products I boycott. The fact that I’m not Gandhi says a lot more about him than it does about me.

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 they’re supposedly launching. But I don’t really believe that either. I don’t have any illusions that I’m shaking the foundation — let’s get real. But at the same time, I don’t feel like I’m fitting in to their agenda, assuming they have one.

I’m 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 doctrinaire politics.


For a copy of Beer Frame send $3 cash/check/money order to Paul Lukas, 160 St. John’s Place, Brooklyn, NY 11217.


Sellout Rhetoric: Good or Bad?

Every social construct needs some form of control. In many subcultures it’s sellout rhetoric. Here’s some quick shots at this absurd-yet-vital concept.

Sellout rhetoric is good

... because it empowers youth in their purity, since they’ve had less time and cause to compromise. This allows a subculture to regenerate itself constantly. It also limits the power of old-timers, since they’re more likely to have made compromises.

Sellout rhetoric is bad

...because everyone loves someone who’s sold out. "Hi Mom, I’d 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 can’t do math. The standard $1 zine and $5 show was a standard set 15, 20 years ago. If someone charges more, they’re merely guilty of factoring in inflation.

Sellout rhetoric is good

...because if someone is profiting off punk rock, they’re 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 it’s 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 shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing proposition. Doing a freelance article for Details doesn’t 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 they’ll 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 he’s been able to balance major label machinery with street cred rather well.

Most of my tentacles are "alternative" in nature. I’m in an indie rock band; I used to be the managing editor of a well-known anti-establishment rag; I publish my own zines; I’ve organized one zine fair and co-organized another; I’ve 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. I’m 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 I’d clear my name by describing it — but I signed an anti-disclosure clause so their propriety research tools remain just that.

In my case, the line between independent culture and corporations is hazy. I can’t say I’m 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? Let’s 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.

I’m 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 it’s a lot easier than communicating the nuances of my opinions and passions. It’s 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 doesn’t 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, they’ve 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 won’t 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 rat’s 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, I’m 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
It’s been done before
I won’t get on my knees for you
I won’t be your record business whore

— Write Record Release Blues (Jesus and Mary Chain)

Isolating an artist’s 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 you’re 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. I’m sure other independent artists will understand what I mean when I describe a kind of tingling, "spidey" sense when something or someone that you’re working for is more distasteful than tasteful. "Sure, I guess I could rework that paragraph to remove the reference to Nike’s overseas labour practises . . ." Sometimes you use the tingling to fight corporate petty crime and say "no," and sometimes you ignore it.

And sometimes, the tingling makes you curious enough to see what might happen. I’m now a freelance writer, and I recently completed an article — which I’m very proud of — for a magazine which I’m 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.

I’m 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 don’t wanna" is empty calories if you don’t 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 I’ve ever had are with indier-than-thou types who’ve never actually done anything. Which shouldn’t 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 he’s 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 Earth.

I’m not sure if this is the most original or interesting observation, but it’s 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 one’s 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 I’m trying to do) the sacks of gold they provide would allow me to write articles for lefty magazines with shoestring budgets.

The danger, of course, is that one day I’ll 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, I’ll see things differently. For now, the abrasions on my knees heal quickly. I’m 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

Being Orphaned

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 didn’t 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 wasn’t there.

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 haven’t 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, it’s not valued in the same way that, say, accounting skills are.

I’m 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 I’d feel about him if I’d 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 wasn’t 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 book.

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 Shell’s 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, who’s 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 we’d 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.

Inside Design

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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 hadn’t used broken typewriters in a long time, and they changed it.


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 didn’t 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 magalog.

Insinuating Slackwater

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 didn’t admit that "slackwater poets" didn’t 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 usually done.

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 wasn’t 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 hadn’t 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. There’s the simple pitfall of spending money you don’t have in hand, which means that you forfeit your option to pull out of the deal or to seriously negotiate contractual things; and there’s the more insidious lifestyle changes. You have arrived! You’re 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 I’ll get.

So far, my experience at Avon has been frustrating. I don’t feel part of the process at all, despite some token consultation. Adding to my detachment is the fact that I’ve already published the book here, so even though it’s going to be released to a bigger audience I don’t care as much.

Film Rights

There’s 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 — I’m comfortable with her being curvy within the confines of the printed word, but I think it’d be hard for her not to be exploited on film.

The Mistakes

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 author’s 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 can’t allow the structure to endanger them.

The Launch

I wasn’t worried about the reading — I’ve 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 I’d changed...

Of course there were a few guys I hadn’t seen in ages who were my new best friends. That hadn’t been invited but saw my face on the cover of Now (Toronto’s alterna-weekly) and thought Hey I know that guy! and now were cutting into other people’s 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 didn’t nearly live up to his hype.) Since they couldn’t 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 over.

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 "it’s 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 reporter’s fault and half mine. (I’m not a writer for nothing — I’ve often thought that if I could express myself to my satisfaction verbally I’d 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, or care.

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 reviewer’s 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 I’d 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 I’d gotten reviewers who’s left-wing bias made them sympathetic, so how could I complain?


The Top Ten Ways Jim's Changed Since the Book Deal

• Longtime hobby of sneaking up and surprising friends ruined by jangling of heavy gold chains.

• Peppers conversation with references to his numerous freight hopping "attempts" in overstated and ill conceived effort to maintain street cred.

• Beluga-tarian caviar habit now at $500 per week.

• Broke two toes in recent namedropping incident.

• Refers to everyone, from his personal trainer to his own mother, as "babe."

• Looks much scarier with his full set of gold teeth.

• Ends all debates with the phrase "I was on the cover of Now, babe."

• Pays restaurant bills by scrawling a few sentences about bugs and activism on the back of receipts.

• When invited to come out and play, he says he isn't feeling well (babe), but Rupert Murdoch is heard giggling in the background.

• Progressively tighter trousers