Creator Spotlight: Jason Kunin

Jason Kunin – Videographer / Freelancer

1. Did you have / how did you overcome fears that you would fail when you started publishing your work?

To be honest, I’ve never had this sort of fear of failure because publishing for me has always been something I’ve pursued as a hobby rather than a vocation. The stakes around getting published or not getting published for me have never been very high for me because I have a good job and because I never thought I could actually make a living as a writer, particularly since I don’t have the temperament to do the sort of commercial writing that would pay. Many years ago, for example, I tried to write a Harlequin novel to help me pay for grad school, but I didn’t get very far because it kept coming out as satire. For that sort of thing, you need to be earnest, and I just couldn’t fake it. For the same reason, also many years ago, I turned down a job interview with David Carradine to write scripts for his show Kung Fu. If I have any fears, it’s about getting old and dying before I feel like I’ve written everything I want to write.

2. What is one piece of advice you now rely on, but wish you knew before you started the process?

Pursue your dreams when you’re young and you don’t have a mortgage or need expensive medication. Take chances. Try to live a life without regrets.

3. What is the most positive part of having your work in the public eye?

I’ve written for different purposes, but if, for example, I’m writing an op ed piece, it’s satisfying to be able to bring something I feel strongly about into the public discourse and to get people talking. On another level, and I imagine this is true of all writers, there’s simply a satisfaction of seeing your name in print – and when I say print, I mean in ink and on paper, not just on-line. Publishing in a newspaper or being included in a print anthology – and I’ve experienced both things – feels like you’re leaving a more permanent mark, though rationally I know this really isn’t true. Most of my publishing has been journalism, but there’s a line from H. L. Mencken that has always stuck with me. “Journalism,” he wrote, “is a fleeting thing, and any man who devotes his life to it writes his history in water.”

4. In what way has having your work in the public eye proved to be a negative?

Once you put yourself out there, you’re an open target for people to attack, and they’ll do it in public too, so be ready for it. I’ve published pieces that people haven’t agreed with, and I’ve sometimes taken positions that have not been popular, particularly on Israel and the extreme right. Consequently, I have been crank called. I have received anonymous hate mail. I have been denounced in the National Post, the Canadian Jewish News, and the Calgary Standard. I’ve been the subject of both a College of Teachers investigation and a TDSB investigation because of complaints made about things I’ve written or said outside of work in my private life that had nothing to do with my teaching. Even my family has been attacked. My mother was once thrown out of a shiva (a kind of Jewish wake) because the brother of her deceased friend hated some of things I had written about Israel. So you need to have a thick skin, even if it’s only to deal with bad reviews. 

5. What advice would you have for someone looking to get started publishing their work?

Don’t expect to make money from writing, though if you’re looking to write in order to make money, you’re doing it for the wrong reason anyway. Write for yourself, not for others.

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