I interviewed Dina about her journey from coming up with the idea for her blog to brainstorming a book version. Throughout the interview, read lively excerpts from Bureaucracy for Breakfast (with links to the full posts) and afterwards see Dina's impressive bio (hint: unemployment was not always a problem for this girl!)
Dina Gachman: I got laid off from my job as a development executive in film in March 2010 and after a few weeks of brooding in my pajamas wondering what I should do next, I realized I should probably write about the experience and do something productive before I started falling down the rabbit hole of unemployment - which basically means feeling sorry for yourself, meeting your other unemployed friends for beers at 2pm on a weekday, reading US Weekly, and watching too much reality TV. So I thought I would try and look at the whole experience of being laid off in a comedic way. It's more fun to laugh at this stuff than to cry about it, right? So I pitched it to an editor I know and he said lets see what happens. So here we are, over a year later, still going. It's not just about unemployment anymore though, it's about the process of writing, trying to build a career from scratch, and it's about pop culture in general. So for example - Paris Hilton built a 350K dollar house for her dogs, and most people in this country can barely afford the rent on their studio apartment, so to me that's kind of fascinating. And frustrating!
Q: How did you come up with the title?
DG: Just in case people don't know what EDD is - it's the Employment Development Department in California (no clue why it has "development" in the title since they don't help you find a job!). So one morning I was trying to call them to find out about getting unemployment benefits, and trying to get through to the EDD is an exercise in patience. I kept trying to get through, and I looked down at my sad looking bowl of oatmeal and the words "Bureaucracy for Breakfast" floated through my head. I grabbed a pen and scribbled the title down, not knowing what- if anything - it would become. I jot down a lot of random thoughts on paper, on gum wrappers, on my arm - on whatever is around basically, and half the time I lose the paper or re-read it and realize what I thought was totally brilliant is really totally lame. But this one stuck.
EXCERPT: "It was handed to me a week ago. An innocent looking, baby-blue postcard. A casting call for a dating game show. My nightmare, really. But when you are jobless, and your nightmare promises $500 for a single day’s work, it’s shockingly easy to face your worst fears. Or so I thought..." (Link: Bureaucracy for Breakfast vol IV: "How Jerry Springer (almost) made me do it")
DG: The blog is initially published by the website Lost in a Supermarket, so right off the bat readers of that site were exposed to Bureaucracy for Breakfast. At first I was a social media newbie so I would put it on Facebook and send it to people via email. It started getting fans pretty quickly, but mainly it was people I knew. Then I succumbed to Twitter (which I now think is the BEST tool for writers trying to get their work out there - free PR) and created a separate Tumblr blog so I would have all the posts on one site. Once I created the Tumblr and got on Twitter I started getting emails from people all over the country, in Canada etc, so that was really exciting. And people started spreading the word on Facebook and by word of mouth so it started to grow that way. Most days I feel like a one-woman PR machine. I spend half my day writing and the other half trying to spread the word. But I enjoy it actually, it's part of the process.
Q: What is your target demographic? What type of reader (age, gender, location) most often views your blog?
DG: It's definitely evenly divided between men and women, and the readers are mostly early 20s into their late 40s, but I get emails from people in their 50s and 60s as well. One reader is a teacher in his 50s who lives in Reno, Nevada, and he's one of the biggest supporters. Initially I was writing for people who had been laid off and unemployed but even though people who've been through that experience relate, it's really for anyone who likes reading comedy I guess. The target audience is anyone with a sense of humor!
EXCERPT: "We sat on pillows. Chaturanga had on tight, lacy black bellbottoms with red fabric that peeked out of the flares when he walked. He wore a color coordinated red silk shirt, beaded necklaces, and a vest. His hair was shoulder length, pulled back and held together with even more beads. I confess the word “charlatan” popped into my head when I laid eyes on him and his ensemble. I spotted a drum and a didgeridoo..." (Link: Bureaucracy for Breakfast vol XI: "Do what scares you")
Q: Why the name "The Elf" for Twitter? [Dina's Twitter name is TheElf26.]
DG: I blame the editor at Lost in a Supermarket (LIAS) for that one! The Elf was my nickname in college, and he likes everyone who writes for LIAS to use a pen name. He's Madman Mundt (from the movie Barton Fink), and I became The Elf. I guess it's because I'm 5'2" on a good day - not because I have pointy ears and live in a forest.
Q: Describe your blogging process (examples: do you write every day, only when inspiration hits, etc.)
DG: I write every day whether it's just journal type writing, the blog, or working on another project (I write a column for H Texas Magazine called "Texan Adrift" as well). One of my favorite writing quotes is "Stop thinking of writing as art. Think of it as work." Paddy Chayefsky (Network, Marty) said that, and I think it's so true. Professional athletes don't practice once in a blue moon when they feel like it, they do it every day no matter what. After the layoff and during the process of writing this blog I've really come to understand how true that quote is. You have to do it every single day, even if what comes out just sucks and even if sitting down to write sounds as fun as hopping into the dentist chair for a root canal. It's work. As far as Bureaucracy for Breakfast, I'll write one about once a month, I usually wait until the idea for the next post takes shape in my head, and through jotting down notes, then I'll get into a zone for a few hours and just spit it out onto the page. Then I edit and re-write obsessively for a few days before sending it to the editor.
EXCERPT: " By the time I leave babysitting, I look and feel like I’ve just crawled on hands and knees out of the jungles of Borneo after being chased by wild boars and gibbons and rabid butterflies. Let’s just say on those days, I don’t go home and write. I go meet friends for a drink..." (Link: Bureaucracy for Breakfast vol X: "(mis)Adventures in Babysitting")
Q: Describe how you felt when chosen by Chelsea Handler's site as a featured blog.
DG: Excited! I love her books, it's rare to read something and laugh out loud, and besides her and David Sedaris, not many writers do that for me - really catch me off guard with a sentence or a phrase and make me laugh. But it really motivated me to keep pushing the blog and keep on writing. Most writers know the crazy highs and lows you go through - one minute you're a writing genius and you're on the path to a best sellers list or an Academy Award, and the next minute you suck and you'll end up unpublished in a ditch somewhere. So we need those jolts to keep us going - like getting recognized by Chelsea Handler's company etc. It has also been a great marketing tool, to be able to tell people about that.
DG: Back in the fall I started getting asked about turning it into a book, and at first I wasn't sure what the book version would be - would there be a running narrative? Would it be a fiction version? Then I started thinking about why I love to pick up a David Sedaris book - it's just FUNNY, and entertaining. Not that I'm comparing myself to him, I just started thinking the book version could be something people would pick up and read and re-read when they want to escape for a little bit and just be entertained. So I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to get a graphic designer and try and create an initial book version. I made a video, spent a month sending the Kickstarter link out and reached the funding goal which was really cool and amazing every time I got a donation - it really meant a lot and made me feel that much closer to the project. So I have a graphic designer named Amy Saaed I'm working with, a book agent asked to see a proposal so that's exciting, and there's been talk of doing a graphic novel/comic book version of the blog too. So we'll see, fingers crossed!
Excerpts from Bureaucracy for Breakfast © Dina Gachman