Vakis Boutsalis, author of Fishbowled, talks about his approach to writing and his plans for the future.
Why do you write? Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do? Or is it something that you started fairly recently?
After graduating from journalism school I couldn’t find a job and I ended up working at my family’s restaurant. I began to view my time at the restaurant as research for a book. Though fishbowled is a work of fiction, a lot of the story is based on that time of my life. Writing it was an outlet for my frustrations. Now that I can look back on that time and realize that it led to my first book, I’m much more at peace with the experience, which is good because there was a point where I felt like kicking some high school students, and really that’s not something I should be doing. I mean, maybe, if nobody is watching, but really no. No kicking.
In terms of why I write, it’s something I’ve always done and will continue to do as a freelancer working in Toronto.
Tell me a little about your book.
Fishbowled revolves around a video that’s caught on a camera phone and goes viral within the community of East York, Toronto. The video features Tom, a 27-year old second generation Greek who works in his family’s restaurant down the street from a high school, and Mel, a 16 year old dropout who spends most of her days hanging around the school getting high. The narrative is non-linear, jumping back and forth between before the video ever existed and after it’s uploaded to the Internet. In that sense, it’s very Tarantino-esque. Other similarities to Tarantino include an abundance of drugs, and an appreciation of hip hop. In some ways I think of fishbowled as a mash up of Pulp Fiction and Boy Meets World.
Are there any authors who inspire you?
I was inspired by Chuck Klosterman while writing the book. He’s primarily known for his essays and interviews, but I really enjoyed his first novel Downtown Owl, which served as a kind of template for me. In general, I enjoy Douglas Coupland, David Foster Wallace, and Chris Jones. I also realize that I need to start reading more women authors. Any suggestions?
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
Fishbowled’s first draft was written while I was running a restaurant. I would basically write whenever I had time. Sometimes, if an idea struck me, I would write a paragraph on my Blackberry and email it to myself. The whole thing was pieced together over a year. When I finished I thought it was a masterpiece, and then I read it. It took another year to re-write. By that time I was working in an office and I was able to schedule blocks of writing time.
Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you opted for self-publishing?
I did. I sent out dozens of pitch letters. Here’s a link to one of the best ones. How can anybody read this pitch letter and not get back to me? The opportunity is there for indie writers to capitalize on digital distribution in the same way indie musicians and indie gamers have. I don’t see the difference between a writer who releases a book without a publisher and a singer who releases an album without a label. The question shouldn’t be how was it released, but is it good?
What goals have you set yourself? Do you want to sell a certain number of books in 2012? Is there some way you measure success, on your own terms?
I want to win the Giller Prize and sell fishbowled‘s movies rights to Ron Howard, or maybe Diddy. My wife, who is more sensible about these things, would like to see us grow an audience more organically. I’m basically starting at zero in terms of strangers who are interested in reading one of my books. If I can get to 10 new readers, that’s 10 readers I never had before. I’d like more than 10, obviously, but the idea is to grow.
How have you marketed your book?
Right now I am focused on Twitter, Facebook and the blog. I really don’t want to rush this part of the process. My wife Kelly has been a big help in sharing the load. We co-created the blog What James Franco Did Today where we poke fun at James Franco and the sheer amount of projects he takes on. That site taught us a lot about building an audience online and we want to apply those lessons to the book. I just published the book so it’s hard to gauge successes at the moment. It would be really cool if John Stamos could tweet about the book. I don’t know if you are aware, but Greek people love them some John Stamos.
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
I am really focused on marketing at the moment. I know a lot of blogs suggest having multiple books out at the same time as an indie writer, but I am not ready to pursue that right now. Focus on marketing and on the blog and on spamming John Stamos.