The Ultimate Scribe to His Tribe: An Interview with JUSTIN LUKE
KIRPAL GORDON:First off, I congratulate you on writing an extraordinary first novel, Gulliver Travels. It’s also gotten great press, and you have had incredible success selling the book via Amazon, Kindle and other new technologies as well as through your day and night jobs. What’s the adventure been like for you?
JUSTIN LUKE: Thank you, KP! And I thought that my novel's namesake had an adventure… little did I know what was in store for me! Gulliver Travels actually began almost 3 years ago, as a National Novel Writing Month challenge (I got the 50k words in 30 days, score). From there I re-published the "novella" to a blog while I spent a year revising it… people then began assuming that Gulliver was real and he became a celebrity in New York City! He was asked out on hundreds of dates, offered jobs, propositioned for sex… needless to say, when I had to "come out" as the Guy behind Gully, it was a bit of a trip.
From there, I self-published the book using Amazon's CreateSpace, as well as Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing. And I then discovered that the gay 20-something demographic, who are well known to spend lots of money on things, weren't AVERSE to reading… it was just that no one had ever bothered writing anything for them before. This led to my book becoming the #1 highest rated gay book on the Amazon Kindle within three weeks. If this wasn't exciting enough, one day I was walking home from my day job when I got a Facebook email from the Senior Book Buyer at Amazon Encore, Amazon's publishing imprint. He had grabbed Gully, and enjoyed it immensely… and offered me a 3-book deal!
The first thing I did was read the email ten times. I had given up on being traditionally published years earlier! That's why I self-published! After that I called my Mom and Boyfriend and Dad and Best Friend, and through jagged sobs of happiness, told them. From there it's been a stress-filled dream come true. New revisions, new writing, meeting with marketing teams and design teams and experiencing what I've been dreaming of since my parents bought me a typewriter when I was 12. And all of this has happened BEFORE my book Gulliver Takes Manhattan goes on sale internationally in May of 2012! I can't wait to see what else is in store. As Gulliver says at the end of the novel: "I should be terrified. I am so fucking excited."
KIRPAL GORDON: Not only do you express yourself very well online, but taken together, the video and print interviews you’ve done make it clear that for gay members of the generation under thirty years old trying to make New York City their home, “Gulliver Travels” is the ideal handbook. What’s it like to be so well received by the gay community?
JUSTIN LUKE: Being received so well by the gay community, frankly, is something that HAD to happen. If it didn't I would have considered myself a failure, hung up my hat, and moved to some suburb in Illinois, never to be heard of again. I've been working as a gay nightlife promoter and producer for over two years now. I have been keeping the illustrious metropolitan gay twenty-something male in my sights for even longer than that. I study them. I observe them. I meet hundreds of them a week. If, after all that, I WASN'T received by the community, I would have seriously had to reconsider my talents.
Also, it's all I've ever wanted. I began my life as a wallflower in elementary, junior, and high school. It wasn't until I detonated the closet in college that I began to discover myself. Now I'm living my dream: I'm having fun, I'm meeting younger gay guys and able to teach them and prepare them for the world ahead of them and give them learnings from my life experiences.
And, finally, it's fun because they care about what I care about. When I write something, I'm writing it for me. Luckily, it's perfectly in line with what this community wants as well!
KIRPAL GORDON: The only thing I found a bit odd was all too little mention of the book’s literary merit. Granted, most of your interviewers were dealing with its gay, youth or New York themes, but it is an extremely well written, page-turning tale. It built a powerful momentum chapter after chapter, and like all great literature, it riveted me by pity and fear, Aristotle’s famous remark in his Poetics on the cathartic quality of storytelling.
JUSTIN LUKE: Thank you, Kirpal, it means a lot to me to hear that.
I'll be honest, KP. I wasn't going to call Gulliver Travels (or Gulliver Takes Manhattan) literature because I am used to the negative, flame-friendly world of the Internet. My mother taught me modesty early on, which I use because 1) I am modest and 2) No one attacks someone for being modest. I didn't want people coming out of the woodwork to set me straight and tell me what I had written was trash.
I look at OTHER works as literary, sure. The Chabons and the Franzens and the Rushdies. I guess I didn't give my book enough credit; I just assumed that a book about a gay boy drinking and sexing his way to self-discovery through modern day Manhattan couldn't possibly be literary!
And, finally, I know what sells to my target audience. I say "great literature" and they're already fleeing the scene, their iPhones out as they try to distract themselves. They want excitement! Sex! A character dealing with problems similar to their own, but ratcheted up for ultimate schadenfreude.
KIRPAL GORDON: It’s this unique combination---mastery of the new marketing technologies and mastery of your material from a literary point of view---that gives me hope in the aftermath of an industry destroyed by greed. In other words, you don’t need to be a midlist author waiting for someone to give you the big break. I understand Amazon has invited you into its free publicity program.
JUSTIN LUKE: Technically, Amazon gave me a 3-book deal! It's the whole hog: ePublishing, print publishing, brick and mortar bookstore distribution, and a full PR, marketing and everything else blitz. Essentially, it's like the old fashioned way of publishing, but pimped out to the extreme with the world's largest and most successful company behind me all the way. Again, a dream come true. If I'm going to have a publishing house behind me, having that house live within Amazon makes it that much better.
KIRPAL GORDON: What’s next? Tell us about the short stories you are writing and marketing uniquely.
JUSTIN LUKE: Oh there is always something next! Right now I'm wrapping up the fifth and final short story in my "Gulliver's Travelers" series. It's an eBook-only series that features the secondary characters of my original novel. Each story is told in first person, from one of these characters, and they are all tied in to each other because they take place on the same day. I take it one step further still because the day when all of these stories takes place actually occurs IN THE TIMELINE of my original novel. Basically I answer the question: where was every one else on the day when Gulliver did X?
I did this because, when I first self-published my novel, I figured I'd need to stack the odds in my favor to get attention. And so I committed to write 5 short stories, as eBooks only, all based on the original novel. What I wanted to do was flood the Amazon Kindle's gay store with my name and writing. And, because they were eBooks only, I could charge very little to sell them (each is $2.99… you can't even get a slice of pizza for that any longer). And what it seems to be doing, based on sales, is creating a funnel. For readers of Gulliver, they now have more to read. For those who don't know Gulliver, there's the chance I can reel them in to me by enticing them with a cheap and exciting mini-book that is tied into 4 others, and all of which are related to my original novel. And, to my fortune, it seems to be working!
KIRPAL GORDON: Your grandmother, Edith Zirilli, may she rest in peace, was my neighbor. A daily meditator and a woman with literary talent but little access to the lit world, she would be so proud of what you have accomplished. Do you think of her when you are out giving readings and shows?
JUSTIN LUKE: I always think of my Grandmother, actually. I was lucky, as the oldest child in my extended family, to have the most time with her. She is actually the first acknowledgment in the back of my novel. I am convinced that the writing bones in my body stem genetically back all the way to her. And, judging from how much my mom smiles when she sees my growing success, I imagine Grandma is doing the same.
It's a shame that she was born in a time where a woman writing was frowned upon. I wish she had been given the chance. I like to think that she's watching me, and she's happy that she's getting a shot vicariously through me.
KIRPAL GORDON: How can friends at Giant Steps Press stay in touch with all of what you are doing?
JUSTIN LUKE: Super easy! I'm a bit of a web nerd, so I make sure to be strongly represented online. You can find links to everything I do and sell and offer at my official web site, www.JustinLukeNYC.com. From there you can find hundreds of
ways to get in contact with me and keep tabs, I'm on Facebook, Twitter,
Tumblr, LinkedIn, Vimeo, YouTube, etc. etc. etc. If you'd like to find out more about my book, there's always www.GrabGully.com.