The Bella Rossa Interview With Claire Zulkey of Zulkey.com.
Claire Zulkey is a Chicago writer who, with her friend John Green, started the "Funny Ha-Ha" series of literary humor readings, which is a hilarious night of readings from books, monologues, sketch comedy, and a short film or two. She will receive her Master's in Creative Writing from Northwestern this spring. Claire edits MediaBistro's MBToolBox, an invaluable resource for freelancers, and has been published in ElleGirl, the Chicago Tribune, Glamour and Modern Bride. She has scored interviews with authors and comedians you probably already know and love, and has published a very funny book called "Girls! Girls! Girls!"
Claire, I gotta give props. My humble "Interviews with Bloggers"
project was inspired by your series of interviews with writers and
other creative people, including T. Coraghessan Boyle, Augusten
Burroughs, Andrei Codrescu, Eugene Mirman, Dan Savage, Andy Borowitz,
Susan Orlean, and Michael Ian Black. How did that project get started,
and what's your secret to getting so many well-known people to
For some reason I knew when I first started that I wanted to do
interviews every Friday--it just seemed like a fun project, a fun thing
to look forward to and end the weekend with. So it started with family
and friends--the secret to getting the more well-known people is Neal
Pollack. It's true. A friend of mine was pals with him and told me to
ask him to do one. Neal was my first author who people other than just
my friends knew--once you have that 'bait', once you can tell one
famous person that you've interviewed another famous person, you sound legit.
BELLA: You've said that you love Chicago, and you love
being a writer in Chicago. What is unique about the writing community
in Chicago, and under what circumstances would you consider living
CLAIRE: It's hard for me to really compare concretely as I've
only really lived here and no where else as a writer: I'd probably just
be speculating. But it does strike me as being more supportive than New
York--probably just a matter of numbers, since we're smaller, there's
less space to compete for. I'd live anywhere (well, anywhere I can get
Diet Pepsi) for a period of time but I'd always want to return here. My
boyfriend is a filmmaker though for instance and I tell him if he ever
needed to go to NY or LA then we'd do it, since he moved here to be
BELLA: We live in an age where instant communication and
access to information make writing a different proposition that it was
even ten years ago. If you had come of age as a writer before the
advent of the internet, what do you think your writing and your life
would look like right now?
CLAIRE: It's hard to say. I don't know that I could say I'd
have the perserverence to keep trying without the internet's ability to
get instance gratification, quick communication and ability to
multi-task. Sitting at home and typing up stories and putting them in
the mail and then waiting for the mail to come...that might drive me
BELLA: You once said that your number two favorite movie is
"Gone with the Wind." As it happens, the man who designed the jewelry
for that iconic film was my Great Uncle (who was also from Chicago). In
your estimation, does that make me cool?
CLAIRE: That depends-did he create Ellen O'Hara's earbobs? (Ed: Darn, I don't know. Probably?)
BELLA: You interviewed "A Million Little Pieces" author
James Frey in 2003. What was your reaction when the shit hit the fan
last January, and it was revealed that he had fictionalized a lot of
what was supposed to be a "true story?" Did you feel for him as he sat
on Oprah's couch, squirming under her disappointed gaze?
CLAIRE: Yes, absolutely. You know I can see some people's
point of view about what happened to him but I think a booing on
national television was too much. And honestly when the whole story
came out it didn't really bug me as a reader because I had read the
book a few years previously and the things that were in question
weren't a part of my memory of the book. He'll come out of this and do
great--and I'm totally biased and subjective of course because he's
been a nice guy to me and that goes far.
BELLA: I'm guessing you've been a fervent reader since you
were quite young. What are some of your favorite childhood reading
CLAIRE: My mom always read to my brother and me when we were
younger, and definitely the most fun was Roald Dahl. I'm tempted to go
into a detailed reverie about where we sat for the readings and what
our little routine was but that's kind of sappy. Also I enjoyed the
excitement of a new Baby Sitter's Club book. And the Ramona Quimby
books were great.
BELLA: What are your regular must-reads in terms of online content and periodicals?
CLAIRE: Basically the Chicago Tribune is my homepage so
that's my news. Then the rest of it is gossip, other than the research
I do for mbtoolbox.com. So please don't ask me for a detailed rundown
of what's happening between Israel and Lebanon. I just know it's bad
and I'd prefer then to think about Brandon Davis' unserious attempt at
BELLA: You wrote a funny book called "Girls! Girls! Girls!"
Is it true that that project came about through the realization of the
fondest dream of many bloggers (i.e., an unexpected e-mail with an
offer to publish you)?
CLAIRE: Yes, it did. I got an email from a Ben Brown and in
it he professed that he loved me, which is always an intriguing email
to get from a stranger.
BELLA: You and John Green host "Funny Ha-Ha," a series of
literary humor readings that also feature sketch comedy and what we've
been told are brilliantly twisted short films by Steve Delahoyde. How
did that get started, and what part of the "Funny Ha-Ha" events is the
most fun for you?
CLAIRE: John and I started it because we realized we knew a
whole lot of funny writers who maybe didn't get enough exposure, so we
just wanted to do something fun like that. It was going to be a
one-time thing but the turnout was so huge that I felt this Catholic
obligatory thing to keep it going. Again, I'm being very biased but I
date Steve so it's always great when his videos get good laughs. And
I'm always happy when the show is about 2/3 over because then I can
relax AND be on stage.
BELLA: What would you say are essential tools and resources
for aspiring young writers? The Writer's Market? A MediaBistro account?
A copy of the Chicago Manual of Style? A flak jacket?
CLAIRE: It depends on what a writer wants to accomplish I
think. But lately I'm just amazed by the advice available online for a
nominal fee. Ask Metafilter. Freelance Success. Those sort of
things. I'd rather ask a couple hundred real people something than
look it up in an old reference book.
BELLA: Sometimes young writers discount the importance of
networking, and putting in "face time" among other writers and creative
people. You seem like a good example of a writer who realizes that life
is not an entirely text-based experience. How important has socializing
and mingling been to your life and career?
CLAIRE: I feel a lot of it has been luck: a lot of people I
genuinely like and respect have good things happen to them and then
share the wealth. So, have talented, generous friends! Once you do
that, you find that you don't have to network as much as you'd think.
BELLA: And finally, well-placed sources tell me you're one
of the "best connected people in Chicago." You write for lots of
publications in lots of styles and formats, you produce events, you do
film - where would you like to see your creative explorations go in the
next ten years?
CLAIRE: First things first: I want to publish a second book!