We all know writing can be tough. So every once in a while, you probably surf around the Interwebs, looking for funny sites to distract yourself from your cursor blinking on your blank Word doc. Maybe in one of those comedic searches you’ve even run into a much-loved site called Pets Who Want To Kill Themselves. Maybe you’ve chuckled at a huge black terrier stuffed into a squirrel costume, or a chihuahua dressed as a turkey. And maybe, just maybe, you laughed.
Well prepare to chuckle again- WordHustler turned the mastermind behind this hilarious site, writer Duncan Birmingham, loose on WordHustlerInk to interview his most challenging subject yet: himself. Birmingham is a successful screenwriter who managed to turn his popular blog into an even-more popular humor book published by Random House! How did he do it? What’s the secret? And, most importantly, how did they get those boxing gloves on that pit bull?
WordHustler Duncan: Duncan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. Can you tell our readers how this book deal came about?
Real Duncan: Sure, Duncan. I spent three years slaving away on a novel nobody would publish. A year later I started a blog with photos of pets dressed in sombreros and R-rated captions and I got a book deal within the month.
WHD: Why pets?
RD: Mailer, DeLillo, Roth; they’ve all focused on the human condition in America. I thought it was time that a writer was brave enough to tackle the pet condition in a post 9/11 America.
WHD: Oh boy, is this really going to be that kind of interview? Seriously, what made you start this blog?
RD: I’d gotten a couple holidays cards with the family pet all dressed-up in antlers or a Santa’s hat and just looking like they wanted to bite someone’s face off. Those are the only holiday cards I keep on my fridge all year long. I found similar photos on the internet, came up with a title that made me laugh and started a tumblr site-which is very easy even for a Luddite like me-where I linked to the photos and did little captions. Pretty soon people were sending me their own pet photos.
WHD: What kind of pet do you have?
RD: Currently, none. I’m allergic to cats but am ramping up to get my first dog. I’m researching breeds now. I have to be content to dress up my friends’ pets for now.
WHD: But you hate dressing up pets?
RD: Wrong! I love it. The Pets Who Want To Kill Themselves ethos is that I like to poke fun, but deep down I know that pets who are dressed-up, toted around in baby backpacks, married off and groomed into ninja turtles are probably the most beloved pets of all. When looking for the perfect photo submission, the term I use is “over-loved.”
WHD: Do you think a blog is a good way to get a book agent’s or a publisher’s attention?
RD: It depends on the type of book. My book deal came around the same time as a few other blog-to-book deals (This Is Why You’re Fat, F*ck You Penguin) and so my blog got a lot of attention in these articles proclaiming the death knell of publishing. So certainly for a concept that is humor-based and doesn’t have a lot of text or has an interactive element, the blog is a great way to get attention. Otherwise, I think a blog can be helpful as a way to build a fan base and get your name out there. Certainly there are many examples for non-fiction writers getting traction for their work from their blogs. For fiction writers, it seems a little trickier.
WHD: What was the process for you?
RD: It all happened very fast. Most of the photos are submissions that were emailed to me, but a few were photos I sought out on a Flickr or pet sites and requested the owner let me use. Some people heard the title and shut me down cold, but most had a sense of humor about it, were excited to show off their pets and were very sweet and encouraging about the whole endeavor. So basically, I combed through hundreds of photos and weeded out the best 160 for the book. The tough part was resisting posting a lot of them on the blog first cause they’re just so good you can’t wait to show them off.
When it came time to caption the photos, I read lots of Vice Do’s and Don’ts , dug up my The Far Side collections for inspiration and tried to think of each photograph like a one-panel cartoon. Some of the captions are omniscient narrator, but most are the pets speaking with emotions that range from suicidal to sardonic. I’m a method writer, so I was sleeping on the floor and crawling around on all fours for weeks while writing this thing.
WHD: You write for film and TV as your day job. Is there a Pets Who Want To Kill Themselves movie in the works?
RD: It’s very hush-hush, but yes I do have a script that’s kind of The Incredible Journey meets The Night Porter-type thing with tons of franchise tie-in potential. We’re out to talent now. I’m legally obligated to keep quiet, but let’s just say we’re hoping to get a certain leading man whose name rhymes with Dom Grooze. Arrggh, I’m such a blabbermouth.
Well this blabbermouth sure seems to be full of good info! Thanks to Duncan for the spectacular introspection required to delve into the depths of one’s own soul. What are you doing to market your own work in an original and attention-getting way? Take some time to not only perfect your projects, but your writing personality, because that’s what really catches that agent or editor’s eye.
But, as we all know, writing has gone to the dogs.