Entertainment » Books

Jon Paul Buchmeyer :: his life as a sit-com

by M. M. Adjarian
Wednesday May 12, 2010

When writer Jon Paul Buchmeyer left Dallas for New York City in 1996, it wasn't under the most auspicious circumstances. He had just finished directing his first independent film, a comedy called Gay TV: The Movie. It had been accepted at film festivals in Philadelphia and Turin, Italy, but did not receive the response Buchmeyer had hoped for, especially from distributors. One told him "I can only market movies with AIDS or hot gay sex." As if that wasn't enough, his personal life was a mess. New York offered the chance at personal and professional redemption. And so he went, jobless and without clear direction, but eager to start afresh.

Alphabet City: My So-Called Sitcom Life is Buchmeyer's uproarious and dishy account of his Big Apple rebirth and the struggles, breaks and successes that resulted from his risky plunge into the unknown. Recently named a 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist, Alphabet City began as piquant stories the writer would tell those close to him about his experiences as a Texan in Manhattan. At the urging of friends, Buchmeyer eventually set those stories down in manuscript form. In 2009, the writer began a blog (which he still actively maintains) to share excerpts from Alphabet City with a larger audience and test the manuscript's marketability. It soon became clear that Buchmeyer's stories would have no difficulty finding a readership and today, abcityblog.com boasts an international following.

The writer frames his memoir as a literary sitcom, partly in remembrance of a worldview "formed by a steady diet of 70s TV programs" and partly out of a need for what he calls a "personal coping mechanism" to help him process life-events. Each chapter is an "episode" in the "show" of his life, a show Buchmeyer styles after his all-time favorite TV comedy, Mary Tyler Moore. His experiences are along the lines of what the plucky Mary encounters as she makes her way in the working world. But where Mary's experiences are made-for-TV zany, Buchmeyer's are uncensored and unabashedly outrageous.

As MTM's gay alter ego, Buchmeyer starts out as a Kaplan test-prep teacher but soon stumbles into a career as a publicist for the rich, famous - and hopelessly spoiled. After a series of adventures in celebrity baby-sitting for divas like Tyra Banks and Vanessa Williams, he tries his hand at marketing less volatile products like KFC chicken. Later, he's "adopted" to work in PR by publishing giant Condé Nast. His new working "family" is bitchy, gossipy and fashion-obsessed, but Buchmeyer thrives nevertheless and helps transform Condé Nast Traveler from staid to glam.

Alphabet City has a devoted - and ever-growing - readership thanks to Buchmeyer's blog. Not one to be content with easy gains, the relentlessly entrepreneurial Buchmeyer will be doing a multi-city four-month book tour with support from Kimpton Hotels and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. EDGE talked with the writer as he was preparing to kick off that tour in Dallas, the hometown he left behind in pursuit of self-reinvention.


Truth is funnier than fiction

EDGE: Who - and/or what - inspired you to write Alphabet City?

Jon Paul Buchmeyer: Over the years, many friends who heard my stories encouraged me to write a book. With a big birthday staring me down, I decided to buckle down and do it-I wanted to finish writing the book by the time I was 40!

EDGE: Why did you use a non-fictional rather than fictional form to tell this story?

Buchmeyer: Truth is funnier than fiction! I pride myself on my honesty-so I wanted to tell my truth. Since my story is about real things that happened to real people, I thought readers could relate to it better.

EDGE: Did you keep a journal of your experiences before you began blogging/writing about them?

Buchmeyer: One of the public relations habits I adopted is keeping a detailed notebook with copious notes of everything happening. My bookshelves are filled them. Anytime I travel, I keep a special, separate journal-something I’ve been doing since I was 10.

EDGE: You call yourself a "writer-preneur". What does this term mean to you and how do you see it as different from "writer"?

Buchmeyer: To me, a "writer-preneur" is someone who combines artistry with business acumen. Someone who explores all methods of connecting with readers-blogging, books, twittering-and then working creatively with companies interested in connecting with those fans.

For example, Kimpton Hotels is known for their marketing and outreach to the lesbian and gay community. Their target is also my reader. How can we partner together to accomplish both of our goals? Kimpton was looking for ways to expand their LGBT outreach, and we came up with a plan for me to travel to many Kimpton Hotels during June’s Gay Pride Month, attend their guest wine hours, and host events in the hotel with my other partner the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. It’s a win for Kimpton-they expand their reach in the gay community. It’s a win for me-I get to market my book to their guests. It’s definitely not your traditional book tour.

Given the economy, I believe writers have to be more creative and work harder to succeed. The days of sitting back and hoping that a major publishing house puts serious money behind your book are over-for most of us. As a writer-preneur my job is to get my writing in the hands of my fans directly-by all means available.


Connection, confidence and creativity

EDGE: Alphabet City is a self-published book. What made you decide to choose a more independent publishing route as opposed to a more conventional one?

Buchmeyer: Three things: connection, confidence and creativity. Connection: Once I wrote and edited the book, I didn’t want to wait years while finding an agent and publisher. I wanted people to read it right away! So I launched a blog to test-market chapters-to find out if the story was as compelling as I believed. The blog developed a dedicated, worldwide following, so I knew that people would like the book. Confidence: I’ve been helping brands launch new products most of my adult life, so I had the belief I could do it myself. Creativity: I also like being in charge-part of my filmmaker background. So it was empowering to me to have the final say-so on things like cover art and marketing strategy. Advances in technology like print-on-demand services are allowing writer-preneurs like myself to put out a quality product-the same way digital cameras revolutionized indie films.

EDGE: Of all the varied creative and career-related experiences you have had, which one (or ones) do believe were the most beneficial to your formation as a writer/writer-preneur?

Buchmeyer: Of course all my experiences led to this moment, but choosing one, I would say my background as an independent filmmaker. It required a similar set of skills-talented artistry with the business acumen to raise money and market a product.

EDGE: You portray yourself as exceptionally honest. Would you say that candor has more helped or hurt you in your career?

Buchmeyer: I’ve built my life on honesty-so I’d say it’s definitely gotten me to where I am today.

EDGE: What has the response of your family - and especially, your father (Federal District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer) - been to the book?

Buchmeyer: My family is very supportive. My sister Paige served as my copy editor, and my mother read the book and loved it. In many ways, it’s brought us closer together. My father passed away last October. Publicly, he was known as a civil rights hero, especially in the gay community for his decision in 1982 to declare Texas’ law banning private homosexual activity unconstitutional. Privately, he was a very complicated man, and I imagine readers will find intriguing some of our personal difficulties around my sexuality.

EDGE: If you had to pick one "episode" among the many you describe in Alphabet City that is your favorite and/or most memorable, which one would it be and why?

Buchmeyer: That’s a tough one because it’s my life and I like them all. If I had to choose, it would be Episode 14 "Happy Soul," the story of meeting my partner online-only agreeing to go out with him because we have the same name-Jon Paul & Juan Pablo. The story always makes me smile because I think it captures both of our personalities, and makes me remember how lucky I am!

EDGE: Was there an "episode" that was difficult for you to write about and/or include and if so, which one and why?

Buchmeyer: Episode 2 "Will He Make It After All?" was the most challenging because it is the most personally revealing. But it was the most rewarding to work on because it forced me to deal with many complicated issues around my father. I think it gives the reader a real sense of my background and challenges in my journey.

EDGE: What do you hope your readers will take away from your memoir?

Buchmeyer: Like Mary, I hope that I turn the world on with a smile! The book is much more than just celebrity stories-it’s about all the hurdles that someone faces when following a dream. I hope it gives readers the courage to follow those dreams.

EDGE: What writing and/or artistic projects are next for you after Alphabet City?

Buchmeyer: I’ve started writing the next book called 40, Love which picks up where Alphabet City left off with me in therapy. It’s about all the challenges that a gay Mary Tyler Moore faces approaching 40! And due to popular demand, ABCityblog.com is expanding to include more of my writing about travel, food, wine, theater and technology.


Alphabet City: My So-Called Sitcom Life is available for purchase at Amazon.com (in both paperback and kindle forms), Lulu.com, BN.com and at Jon Paul’s blogsite, abcityblog.com.

His Alphabet City tour begins in Dallas (May 16-18) and will continue through the following cities: Miami (May 19-23); Boston (June 6-7); Philadelphia (June 8); Washington, DC (June 9-10); LA (June 13-15); San Jose (June16); San Francisco (June 17); Portland (June 19-21); Fire Island (July 10); Provincetown (July 23-25); Lubbock (August 12); Austin (August 13-14); Chicago (August 18-19); Madison (August 20-21) Atlanta (October 7). For more information about specific venues, visit http://abcityblog.com/episodes.


M. M. Adjarian is a Dallas-based freelance writer. She contributes to EDGE, the Dallas Voice, SheWired and Arts + Culture DFW and is a book reviewer for Kirkus.


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