1- What's your name, how old are you, where do you live and with whom?
Jay Brida, 33 and I live with my wife Jessica in Park Slope. I've never felt more like an easily pegged demographic: Part of a yuppie couple in Strollerville,
waiting for the heath care to kick in to have a kid.
2-What do you consider your 'hometown'? If it's not New York, why do you live here and not there, or not someplace else?
It has to be Northampton, MA. While it's now a cute little boutique city, college town that teems with writers, artists and lesbians, it used to be a divided old mill city filled with bitter old Lithuanians and Irishmen who didn't much care for the freaks and students who started running around like they owned the place. It was the city Augusten Burroughs wrote about in Running With Scissors. Like Burroughs, I grew up a Townie (although he alternated between Amherst and Northampton). However, unlike him, I'm from an old union family, and I wasn't brought up by my ma's psychiatrist. Although, because it's a small town, I knew a couple of members of that family pretty well through old townie ties.
I love the way Northampton turned out, shiny, happy, liberal and completely out of the American mainstream. Now, I love Park Slope too, and before that Jamaica Plain in Boston, but I have to live here and not there because, for now, I'm in publishing and advertising and I hate academia - which is the only industry up there in the Pioneer Valley. If my wife and I can get a modicum of financial independence, then, like Tracy Kidder, Bill Cosby and Sonic Youth, I'd consider living in the Northampton area.
3-With or without proper names, how do you make your living?
I'm a copywriter. I write ads for money. It sounds filthy, but really, it's not that bad. I've done freelance work since April 2001, when the economy went South for the Bush regency and the company I was working for went under. Since then, I've been foraging for jobs, like a starving weasel.
Recently, I've done work for a big, metastisizing bank and I think I just got a billboard up in the Dallas area on which I was able to tell the good people of the Metroplex that their ATMs are safe. I've also been writing a lot of the interactive copy for a company whose cars retail up to $400 grand. Of course I don't drive much, but I appreciate the idea of barrelling down a race track in the Batcar at about 180 m.p.h. with the car's torque pinning your balls to your leg.
So right now, things are good, but I'd like to take this opportunity to completely and justifyingly slag one agency: The Coastal Group/Redscope. There's a little freelance organizing going on against these motherfuckers. Through simple fate, I ended up working on a couple of disparate projects with these guys, a few campaigns for furniture wholesalers and an updated website for a Voice Over IP organization. I did the work for them in early to mid '04 and they've stiffed me.
Now, it'd be a somewhat (and only somewhat) mitigating factor if they were about to fail - I've been around dying agencies and you can smell the decay, it's
pretty pitiful. But from everything we've been able to tell, it's something approaching company policy NOT to pay their freelancers. I got paid less than half of what they owed me, but I subsequently found out they only paid that after a Channel 7 expose on them. Now among the 7 freelancers who've managed to contact one another, we've discovered that they owe us, collectively, more than $40,000. There's no telling how many others are out there.
Some of the Coastal/Redscope 7 (hey, you need a catchy name!) have taken them to petty claims court, won their case, and the owners are still giving them the shaft. This is part of the pitfall of being a freelancer - dealing with completely unscrupulous shitbags and having next to no legal rights.
4- Tell me/us about your publishing company, Contemporary Press. How did it come to be, who's involved,and what are your roles?
In late 2002, I was desperate for something to occupy the time other than worrying about where I was going to find my next job, and I thought, "What about publishing trashy, neo-pulp novels?" Really, it's sad in a way to think this was my Eureka moment, but that's how it came about. After having it, I couldn't
sleep for two days, planning in out in my mind, I decided to tell a couple of friends who were also writers and designers in the Inessential Arts and who
also were habitues of a regular, roving Wednesday night drinking party. To my surprise, two of them Jess Dukes and Jeffrey Dinsmore dug the idea right away. In short order, we managed to talk four more people into the 'company', designers Chris Reese and Dennis Hayes, illustrator Jenn Lilya and misanthrope Mike Segretto.
In my vision for the company, I saw us pumping out new takes on old genre novels (thus "Contemporary Press"), so we didn't have writers self-consciously trying to write like Dreiser or Hemingway (or more horrifyingly Eggers, who should be the only one writing like Eggers), but rather to concentrate on providing plot-driven, hard hitting books. Beach books, subway books, books you CAN judge by their covers, which are provocative and cool. It's my slightly literary way to pay homage to the Ramones, an all-time influence of mine, to take the flab out of the Publishing medium.
There's next to nothing new -- unless it's unreadable, or precious, post-modern bullshit -- but there's SO much that can fit into genre. Everyone from giants
like Graham Greene to dull hacks like Tom Clancy exist in genre, so do some of the great archetypes of literature, that are great to subvert or play with.
We currently have five books out, all written by our partners, Jess Duke's Down Girl (a jujitsu version of a roadtrip, woman-on-the-run story), Jeffrey Dinsmore's Johnny Astronaut (a cheeky take on 50's sci-fi and private dick lit. He wrote it under the pseudonym Rory Carmichael), Mike Segretto's Dead Dog
(a Southwestern trailer-park noir comedy) and my two (hey, it's good to be the Publisher) Wet Work (a James Bond-meets k.d. lang spy novel) and G.O.P D.O.A., our first effort with national distribution. It's about big city politics, murder and the idiotic hysteria over sexual transgressiveness -- all centered around the recent pleasantry over at Madison Square Garden. Our next book is Segretto's second effort, How to Smash Everyone to Pieces, which we decided is a genre of one.
What's made the nut though is that before we even had our third book out, we made GQ, thanks to a brilliant young writer who still hasn't gotten her due. From
there, we got distribution from Publishers Group West, who are THE outlet for indie publishers and now, suddenly, we've found ourselves to be a real company, with a charter, taxes and everything. Of course, we're an unprofitable company at the moment, but that's why we all still lope around making the buck in advertising.
5- Do you publish writers from outside the group?
Yeah, we have our first non-partner book coming out early next year, called Dead Rite by Jim Gilmore, a retired ad man who came up with Apple Jacks jingles back in the 60's and 70's. Honestly. He's now an Associate Professor at Michigan State and has done some writing for Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock
Presents magazines, which is cool. It's a nice link to a classic era of pulp and noir, it's something to respect.
Before Gilmore, we had another book slated to go, but the kid kind of went his own way. It was partially my fault. I told him that he'd have final say over the
voice of his book -- but that was assuming he'd follow our First Amendment, which is that it had to have a plot. It had the essence of a plot, the barest
gossamer of a plot, which our editors (Dukes, Dinsmore and Segretto) could be fleshed out with some significant changes. Once we cleared that up, he balked at the contract - which a friend of mine at a big publishing company sent us and we changed the particulars - which allowed the company final say over
the final product. Completely standard. He said no.
All of us were trying to tell him, an unpublished 25 year old, that we're a crank-it-out pulp company, and he's not that good, but whatever. I hope he can write
a bio down the road slagging us, but I'd be willing to bet we were right.
And a couple of books down the road, we're coming out with a noir collection called "Danger City". Most of those stories will be from writers who we hope to work with in the future.
Although it's staggering what we get. Our premise can't be more flexible, or more basic (plot-driven pulp), but people take considerable time and effort to
send us their sincere poetry or their intimate take on scatological fetishes. But that's what we get for having "Fuck Literature" as a slogan.
6-Why are you drawn to the pulp genre?
I love the ethic of pulp, if not always the delivery. It's both punchy and the best of it can be profound. It's a populist form of writing and reading that is almost strictly an American form. Pulp, noir, whatever you want to call it, gives a glimpse into the time and mores of the society that is less self-conscious than
if you were just writing a novel where you are basically the main character. Great pulp, and this includes movies and HBO, is involving. It's alive.
7- What would you rather do - spend a year as a manservant to the Bush twins, or be the lifetime weekend supervisor of Mary-Kate Olsen's caloric intake?
That's a good question. Now, I went to the University of Texas, like Jenna, and I know the place where she got busted for a fake ID. And I respect her effort.
But, like much of Texas, there's less beneath the eye. Whereas three years ago, I thought she was hot in a floozy party girl way, she's much less attractive, and I mean physically, now. Barb,on the other hand, seems better put together, but remote. For example, she won't return my calls.
The Olsen twins though are successful in ways I truly do respect. I imagine them being run by a remorseless mother, "You're not being cute enough! Stop
pronouncing your 'g's!" "You're 18 for crying out loud, slut it up! Those magazines aren't going to sell themselves with their articles!" But maybe not, I
don't know their bio.
What I do know, though, is that I'm a cook. I love eating and good food, and I like the preparation of making a meal. So I wouldn't mind the caloric intake
job. By the time I was through with her, Mary Kate wouldn't be able to live without my wild boar (OK, pork shoulder) ragu and a good Barolo. In other words, I could make a positive contribution to her life in ways I could never reach the Bush girls.
8- what are the three things that piss you off the most?
I tend to get pissed off pretty easily, so this is a difficult one. Normally, I'd say mimes, but now, circa Sept. 04, first and foremost is the state of the union. I feel like I'm living in a slow-motion horror movie where it can't be more obvious what's going wrong, yet somehow the asshole sheriff doesn't believe it and the person who knows the deal is getting mocked. Here we have, in real time, an Administration who has utterly fucked up in just about everything. His successes, like gutting the environmental laws in the name of industry, are completely repellent. His failures are making me consider how my next four years will be in Buenos Aires. Here's a guy who considers the greatest mass murder in American history his crowning achievement, while his sycophants think that their fight in Iraq is Churchillian. It's grotesque. While at the same time, a truly thoughtful guy is getting the tar beat out of him for telling the truth
about Vietnam and saying he was in Cambodia, when it's completely probable that he was. It's fucking surreal.
That leads me to the second part of this hallucination, the mass media. I used to want to be a journalist. Hell, I used to be a journalist and I know the 21 year old woman I worked with who covered Sudbury, MA for a weekly newspaper had more balls than these mannequins. Even growing up during the Reagan years, when the old man was considered Teflon, there were people willing to check behind the curtain. John Kerry, in fact, went after the Iran-Contra people
and BCCI, and the Washington Post helped. There WAS a fight. Now, it's the shameful laydown. Shit, mobbed up fighters have more pride than the kissasses who constitute most of the 'media'. Elizabeth Bumiller, who covers the White House for the New York Times said it was downright SCARY to question the President during times like these, fraught as they are with uncertainty. Why did she want to ever write to begin with? I always thought it was to speak truth to power, be it left, right, Republican or Democrat. Pulitzer said his papers, yellow as they may have been, served to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the
afflicted." That's a mighty quaint notion these days.
But whatever. I could add that I hate traffic, but after being so long winded (another pet peeve), I'll leave it for my blog, Needles on the Beach.
- Interview by Laurie Woolever