Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Q&A with Joey Kulkin part 2

Joey Kulkin holds up his copy of "Chalk It Up!"
It is available in book form or for iPad HERE

BENNINGTON -- The Incredible Kulk has been given another chance to interview Joey Kulkin, author of the new book "Chalk It Up!" Kulkin fell ill Wednesday but a fellow at Fiddlehead at Four Corners by the name of Art Gallery Dude offered preliminary insights (HERE).

Here is the full Q&A with Joey that took place Friday at Fiddlehead:

Incredible Kulk: Thank you again for this opportunity. It sounds like we caught you on a bad day. Art Gallery Dude said you came down with a case of the shivering grumbles. We've never heard of such a malady. Would you mind elaborating?

Joey Kulkin: Remember in the movie "Airplane" when Peter Graves eats the bad fish and his body pretty much shuts down while he's flying the plane? The farting, the apoplectic shivering and quivering, the tensing up, the drooling and the squirting? I must have eaten a rotten cheese blintz for breakfast. Boy, that wasn't pretty. I'm feeling better today. And thank you for letting Art Gallery Dude take my place. It seems like he did a decent job.

IK: Let's just say I would never let him be the White House spokesman. But he's an amusing chap. His little Diego Maradona/Diego Rivera mixup was charming.

JK: Indeed, his heart was in the right place.

IK: Right. So, Joey, you've written a book called "Chalk It Up!" with a subtitle of Fiddlehead at Four Corners Presents the Graffiti Vault. This isn't your first book. As I mentioned with Art Gallery Dude the other day, Chalk It Up! comes out a few months after "The Pink Dreidel: Come Spin With Me" -- and I think you would agree that wasn't your finest literary hour.

JK: No. I saw how you framed the question with Art Gallery Dude, something about a drunk sailor rushing it out before an enema took effect. That made me laugh, and unfortunately, it is correct. Yes, I rushed the product but did so because I wanted to get a book out there. I felt that if I could publish a book quickly it would motivate me to do a second book and third book and so on. The worst thing about The Pink Dreidel is I forgot to put my name on the cover. How boneheaded do you have to be to forget to put your name on the cover of your book? Anyway, I did a little more research and switched to a better self-publishing company because their service is much easier to use. Believe it or not, I cobbled this book together faster than The Dreidel Debacle.

IK: Are you happy with the result?

JK: There are a few things I need to fix for the ensuing volumes but I'm very happy.

IK: There will be more Chalk It Up! books?

JK: Yes, it's a series. I'd like to do a Bennington-only edition, a kids-only edition and so on.

IK: How has the book sold since its release?

JK: Fifteen copies.

IK: Pleased?

JK: Please.

IK: Disappointed?

JK: Yes. Because it's a unique book that I put a lot of effort into. It's a good book, not because I made it but because I'm not sure there's ever been anything like it. I'm surprised that not one person who I put in the book has bought it. I don't understand that.

IK: Why?

JK: It's a keepsake. I thought parents would buy a copy or four because it's something you cherish and pass down through the years. I thought it would play out this way: "Oh, Honey! Remember when we were in that marble art gallery in Vermont last month and the strange guy with big red hair took our picture in the vault? HE PUT US IN A BOOK! LET'S BUY A COPY!" So naturally I thought they'd buy a copy or four, especially after giving me permission to use their photos. It's a great coffee table book, a natural conversation starter. The flip side of that is the owner of the gallery said some of the subjects in the book might think it's just another "Who's Who in America" -- and that pissed me off to no end because Who's Fucking Who in America was not my intent. My biggest mistake was a tactical one. I should have chosen a different template and that would have reduced the price of the book, even after my meager profits off each sale. I'm disheartened by the early sales, sure, but I'll continue to market it on the Intertubez.

IK: Can you elaborate what you mean by "chosen a different template"?

JK: I used a website called, which provides several book templates, and so the bigger the book the higher the price of the book. The price takes another jump depending on how much profit the author wants per book. I chose a $20 profit per book. As for the template, I chose landscape because I felt it fit with my vision for Chalk It Up! The photos are excellent, and I don't know if a smaller book with small photos works. Maybe I'm wrong. It's something I'll tinker with before publishing the next volume.

IK: What is your relationship with Fiddlehead's owner, Joel Lentzner?

JK: We grew up together in L.A.

IK: Art Gallery Dude explained how your idea and Joel's execution led to the Graffiti Vault. What are Joel's impressions of the book?

JK: He loved it. I don't think this book happens without his vision for the Graffiti Vault. He's a visionary. If you remember what Art Gallery Dude said the other day, I only suggested we create a Graffiti Wall. Joel took that idea a step further by painting the Animation Vault walls into chalkboards and turning it into the Graffiti Vault. That's how Joel operates. You can go back 12 years to when this building was dark and empty. Joel saw the need for art of the highest order in downtown Bennington. What he has accomplished with Fiddlehead at Four Corners since 2001 is nothing short of amazing. I think the book plays into his vision for the next phase of Fiddlehead's future.

IK: Who's Alyssa?

JK: <laughs> Yeah, Sweet Alyssa. You probably noticed that Alyssa appears on 4 pages. She showed up to the gallery one Saturday afternoon with her mom and really got into her graffiti. We had a strong rapport while I took her pictures. Alyssa is my type of girl.

IK: Is it fair to say you would not have published a book if you still worked in Trenton?

JK: It is fair to say that.

IK: You were in newspapers for 23 years. Los Angeles. Santa Maria. Iowa City. Bennington. Jamaica. Brattleboro. Roswell. Lebanon. Trenton. You won awards -- at one point you produced the Best Weekly Sports Section in New Hampshire. Before that you were Employee of the Year in Roswell. You earned promotions in Trenton, where you were on track to get a call from headquarters to work in New York City. I've read that it was your dream to work in New York City. Then one day you weren't in newspapers. Your career died. Your dream vanished. Poof! What's even stranger is that overnight you went from being a newsie with title, rank and laurels to a nobody who manages an art gallery in Vermont. If I may, how the hell does that happen? It sounds like the premise to a sitcom.

JK: I've told the story of Trenton recently so it's not hard to find on the ol' intertubez. But to boil it down for you, I was burnt out and made bad decisions in Trenton, and I made those bad decisions because I was burnt out. Maybe deep down I wanted to make those bad decisions. Trenton is a great place to live because no city produces front-page stories like Trenton. But at the same time Trenton is a devastating place to live because it has no soul. And it eats souls. It ate my soul. Maybe I let it eat my soul. I'm sure there's a pathology to the way it all went down during the last year or so. But it's been 6 months since they executed me, and I think I needed to die that death. Don't get me wrong, I miss the daily hustle and bustle of the newspaper game. I'm not the best writer or the best photographer or the best social media guy, but no one in today's newspaper game is better than me, if that makes sense. When newspaper bosses talk about the future of newspapers vis-a-vis today's digital reality, it's me they're talking about in terms of the all-around journalist. Words, photos, videos, links, editing, building pages, managing people and moments. Or maybe I just deluded myself into thinking that. Who knows. With all of that being said, I've never been more relaxed or at ease with myself. I have zero stress. I get to see people I love every day. I'm eating much better. And yes, I'm containing my appetite for destruction.

IK: Appetite for destruction: Because you want to or because Bennington is not Trenton?

JK: You never quit, you just hope to walk away and never turn back.

IK: Do you harbor any ill-will toward the people who fired you in Trenton?

JK: Ill-will? No. I'm still pissed about a few things but dwelling wouldn't make a lick of difference. Strategically, the company got what it wanted, I think. And I will say that big media companies that talk a big game need to pay a little more attention to their employees and reach out to people like me. Much of the mess could have been avoided well before June had they paid attention to the symptoms. I needed help but it's not as simple as someone saying "Well, you should have asked for help" because most people won't ask for help. But again, I think the company achieved its goal with me.

IK: Do you regret your actions?

JK: Regret is cliche. I chose my actions, and I lived like a rock star. But it bit me in the ass and I take full responsibility and accept the consequences. You can't start to grow until you start to admit your mistakes. I'm an imperfect man. I make many mistakes, and I am correcting the processes so that I don't make the same mistakes again.

IK: Do you want to work for newspapers again?

JK: It's in my blood. With that said, newspapers are dead.

IK: You're a book author now -- two times over. What's next for Joey Kulkin?

JK: I'm going to stick with the gallery life for now. It offers possibilities galore story-wise -- the customers always provide interesting fodder which in turn sparks my creative juices. What's happening right now has sitcom written all over it. I also enjoy Bennington. I've been craving another winter in New England for a few years, and I'm looking forward to this one. Then I'll start to weigh my options in the spring. In the meantime I'm going to read up a little more on Diego Maradona. I didn't know he was such a great basketball player.

To order "Chalk It Up!" in softcover, hardcover or for your iPad, click HERE.