2006_01_toddzuniga.gifMr. Todd Zuniga is the founding editor of Opium magazine, the journal of literary humor for the deliriously captivated. This Thursday, February 23, he will host the 11th Opium Reading Series, at Happy Ending, featuring Thomas Beller (How to Be a Man), Samantha Hunt (The Seas), Dennis DiClaudio (The Hypochondriac's Pocket Guide to Horrible Diseases You Probably Already Have), Ryan Sloan and a hilarious short film, Zombie-American by Nick Poppy.

The Basics:
Age, occupation, where are you from, where do you live now?
31. Founding Editor of Opium Magazine/PR Manager of Rockstar Games. From St. Louis, MO, and currently taking up residence in NYC’s East Village.

A few for you:
You're founder of Opium magazine, the journal of literary humor for the deliriously captivated, now featuring cartoons, podcasts, a print journal, live readings, and more. Where did Opium come from and where is it going?
Where it came from: Opium began the way all money-losing schemes start: a bunch of smart-asses think they’re smarter than everyone else, and charge out into the world to prove it. Then after eight days, the smart-asses realize the amount of work (lots) will not justify the amount of sex they’ll get from said work. But I stuck around, because of my pet peeve: people who don’t follow through. Five years later, all of those “friends” who didn’t stick around died of herpes complications, and I’m still here, squeaky-clean.

Where it’s going: A question that I know the answer to! Forgive me if I ramble. To me, reading and writing are worth celebrating in a monster way, and I’m ecstatic to be in a position where I can make Opium a metaphorical focal point of that celebration. In the last year and a half, I’ve surrounded myself with epically talented people who keep Opium thriving online (daily) and in print (biannually), who smooth out the kinks of our reading series (monthly), and inspire me to conceive of different, weirder, more exciting future schemes (which I’ll get to momentarily). Opium’s primary aim is to showcase work that makes writers and writing essential -- not just academic, literary types, but also to pop culture fanatics.

What bothers me is when people assume that Opium sets itself up against McSweeney’s or YankeePotRoast.org, or that it imitates George Saunders’ Pastoralia. But that’s simply not the case. The truth is, Opium’s competing with the internet, television, films, music, video games and The Enquirer. We have to announce ourselves as entertainment, and be proud of that. I’m proud to say that you should read Patrick Irelan’s “Reruns” in Opium’s .print2; or listen to Tao Lin’s “I Want to Kill My Literary Agent” on Opium’s .live; or check out C.M. Evans’ creepy cartoons on Opium’s .com—instead of watching The Sopranos or playing Grand Theft Auto. I highly recommend doing those other things, too, but after reading Opium. After reading George Saunders’ “Sea Oak.” After reading Pia Z. Ehrhardt’s “Driveway” from McSweeney’s #16. After reading John Leary’s “Here’s to Abundance” in Gettysburg Review. I could go on and on.

This brings me to my final point (sorry it’s taken so long-- I just get a little over-excited sometimes). In two weeks, I’m announcing the launch of Opium Publishing (heard it here first!). We’ve just acquired another print magazine (Sweet Fancy Moses—keep an eye out for the Sweet Fancy Moses Literary Death Match, a genre-busting “reading” series that launches Mar. 14, as well), and we hope to obtain a recently defunct, cult-hot web site by week’s end.

Ultimately, I love laughing and humor and brilliant writing. I also like euphoria, literature, scalp-shearing hilarity, and making-out. Opium Publishing will be a destination for people who also like this sort of thing.

Opium has been plugging away daily for five years now--which is generations in Internet years—while so many of its peers have faded away. What keeps you going? What do you think is the state of Internet writing these days, and do you think personal blogs are the death knell for collaborative journals?
After 3.5 years of editing Opium on my own, I smartened up and hired some literary brainiacs. Now that my time has freed up (somewhat), I’m allowed to concentrate on my two current passions: curling and the print version of Opium. My goal is to reinvent Opium’s .print from issue to issue. I want to keep it fresh—and not just for the readers, but for myself. I like the idea of someone getting a paper cut from one of our journals and cherishing it. Pipe dream, I know.

As for blogs, I used to gripe about them the way politicians gripe about video games. But also like said politicians, I was being dumb and closed-minded -- particularly considering the handful of surprisingly edifying and sharply-written blogs I’ve recently fallen in love with (Maud Newton, Mark Sarvas, Tod Goldberg). People should be reading them. Really, I’m jealous. I’d love to have a blog, but it takes me 61,436 edits before I’ll even pass off a short stories to a friend (here’s to obsessive perfectionism!).

But to answer your question straight: I don’t think blogs are a death knell for collaborative journals. Anything that should survive, will. Literary journals should survive, thus they will.

Ever smoked opium? (If not, would you James Frey a brief tale of addiction and recovery?)
It’s tough to believe that I’m 31, this good-looking, and such an incredible pleasure to be around, but I’ve never done an illicit drug in my life. I’ve never even smoked marijuana. What a square! No one believes this, but that’s part of why I wanted Opiumto be the magazine’s title. Oh, the irony! Although— I havealways intended to throw a huge, mind-bending drug party for my 65th birthday, in which I’ll take my first hit of the good stuff. Might as well start the guest list now: any interested parties should e-mail me (todd@opiummagazine.com). I hereby promise to invite anyone who e-mails me. Seriously. I’m an excellent recordkeeper.

Opium's 555-buck Fiction Prize is judged by Mr. Jonathan Baumbach, so I suppose a Squid and the Whale question is appropriate: Which sea creature would you rather fight?
I am a hulking 6’1/2”, 139 pounds mass of man candy, and I would topple any slumbering manatee that crossed my path.
Also: Squid and the Whale, my favorite film of the year, was robbed a well-deserved Oscar. Come on, Munich?

As a former video-game reviewer for Official PlayStation Magazine, EGM and The Onion, you've no doubt done serious stress damage to your joystick thumb. What's the best game out there? The worst? What's your highest score or quickest time or any other records broken?
I say this without any favoritism (though if my bosses read it, I think they’ll be pleased), but Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is the greatest thing to happen to video games since Ms. Pac Man. Though Winning Eleven 9 Soccer is right there with it. Worst? Halo 2. How people love that drivel is beyond me.

No broken records, but Tecmo Super Bowl on Sega Genesis lead to not one, but two break-ups whilst I was in university.

If you weren't writing (and editing/motivating/cultivating other writers), what would you be doing?
If I weren’t psychotically driving toward the final edit of what I hope will be my debut novel, rewriting the final drafts of my “Children’s Books Without Pictures for Adults…” series, pushing towards the creation of Opium’s .print3, being the editorial director of Opium Publishing, hosting the Opium reading series, and co-curating the Sweet Fancy Moses Literary Death Match, I might actually add some value at work.

According to the McSweeney's article, "32 ½ Things We Learned on a Blind Date with Todd Zuniga," you seem to talk about dogs and restaurants a lot. What might one learn on a second (non-blind) date with you?
I pretty much talk about the same things on the second date as the first: myself. I’m kidding, of course. I only do that for the first six dates. But seriously folks! On a second date one would learn that I love the movies City of God and Rushmore, that I’m the last of eight kids, that I’ve hosted Opium readings in Stockholm, Tokyo, Riga and Prague, and that I’m really confused why I’m on a date with this person at all, since I’m over-the-moon about my girlfriend.

Dude, you've got some serious hair. Explain.
My older brother was beaten to death when I was seven. Just kidding. I’m flattered you’d make mention of my dynamic frock. I spend no less than forty minutes each a.m. cultivating it to look like I just woke up.

It’s a point of contention, though. My mother thinks it’s too long, my girlfriend thinks it’s over-conditioned, and I think it just looks stupid. But fun, floppy stupid.

The questionnaire:
Favorite bar or restaurant?
Good World (3 Orchard St.)

Best celebrity encounter on the streets of New York?
For an entire city block, a friend of mine was trying to explain what director Jim Jarmusch looked like. I couldn’t picture him. Conveniently, he was at the next crosswalk we came to.

Best bargain to be found in the city?
Strawberry Shortcake at Viniero’s. It may be $5 a pop, but it should cost $45 a slice.

What place or thing would you declare a landmark?
Happy Ending.

Who's the New Yorkiest New Yorker in town?
I’m not qualified to answer this one, but I do know that the most Stockholmiest Stockholmer is Per Nuder.

Any advice for Mayor Bloomburg?
Nope! Keep up the great work!