Blogger Spotlight: Byron Flitsch (MTV Buzzworthy)

Hello and welcome to the final Blogger Spotlight of the week. We started working on this particular features less than two weeks ago and are excited to see if go from idea to live on the site in such a short time. If you have any questions regarding the content of this blog, or if you would like to learn more about our efforts here at Haulix, please email james@haulix.com and share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook

Not long ago I was scrolling through the latest pop music headlines when I noticed a story on MTV’s Buzzworthy blog about Lorde joining Katy Perry and Ellie Goulding at a party. It was the kind of headline many music news snobs might throw shade on, but I could not help clicking to see what New Zealand’s seemingly apathetic songstress could possibly be up to in a club with pop’s dance club queens. The answer, as you can probably guess, was having a good time, like all sixteen-year-old millionaire vocalists do.

What I took away from that post about Lorde and her public attempts at coming out of her shell had nothing to do with the article itself. No, what I learned that afternoon was that someone at MTV could kick my ass as a writer. Someone on their contributing team is so gifted with wordplay that they can take something as dull and self-explanatory as a few late night photos of celebrities and create a blog post worth reading.

I knew immediately that we need to feature the author of that post on this blog, but before I reached out to Byron Flitsch I spent time getting to know more about him and his work. He writes about pop culture, yes, but he and his abilities extend much further than whatever is hot at radio right now. Byron is a mountain mover. He faces whatever challenges life throws his ways and conquers them, then figures out ways to do more for everyone around him. He’s as funny as he is smart, and as kind as he is talented. We’re thrilled to have him on the blog, and will waste no more time to getting to our interview.

If you would like to know more about Byron and his efforts in writing, please be sure to stop by his personal website and follow him on Twitter. You also need to read MTV Buzzworthy. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of this post.

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H: To get us started, please tell everyone your name, job title, and a few of the places your work can be found:

B: Byron Flitsch, Freelance Contributor at MTV Buzzworthy/Freelance Writer/ Teacher/Traveler/Story-teller/ 

You can find me at http://buzzworthy.mtv.com/author/byronflitsch/   and my official clips/blog/fun stuff at www.byronflitsch.com

H: Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us, Byron. We are big fans of your work. Tell me, has music always played a very influential role in your life?

B: Thanks for being a fan. Does that mean I can start an official fan nickname? You know, Rihanna has her “Army” and Beyoncé has her Bey Hive. I’m going to work on this… I’m thinking “Byron’s Boos” What do ya think?

It’s funny, I was just having a conversation with a friend the other day about what my true passion is and aside from pop culture, dogs, and “Felicty” reruns.  I’ve really always loved music – especially pop music . 

Truth time: I used to write poetry back in the day (no really, I have like, seventeen-bazillion journals) and thought I’d write lyrics for a living. Music has always played a role in my life. It’s good for stirring emotions when you’re working on a story; it’s great to sing a long to when you’re trekking on road trips. Good music is essential to happiness and creativity. 

H: When you look back at your younger years, are you able to pinpoint in formative moments or experiences that steered you toward the career you have today? 

B: I wrote a story on my dad’s archaic work lap top about two dinosaurs falling in love when I was about eight. I remember reading it to my family and both my parents being like, “That’s funny! You’re good at writing. You should do more!” I remember thinking it was fun making things up and telling my own versions. I could lie and be applauded for it—GAME ON!

I also was the editor of my school newspaper and yearbook. I remember loving having stories to tell—whether it was about how bad the school lunches were for you or the senior section in the yearbook—I liked sharing words on the page. 

H: Who is the first artist you can remember obsessing over? How did you discover them? Go on, tell us a little about your earliest ‘fanboy moments.’

B: My first cassette tape I ever bought was Debbie Gibson and I remember memorizing every word, choreographing dances to it and pretty much being obsessed with it all. Speaking of creating choreographed dances, I also nailed routines to Janet Jackson, Madonna, and Whitney Houston. 

I  became obsessed with Alanis Morissette as I got older. I know every single word from “Jagged Little Pill” – Go ahead, test me! 

Fine. I’ll admit it! Things are about to get real here: Jewel. I WAS ALSO OBSESSED WITH JEWEL. 

H: You’re from Wisconsin initially, but like many in this area of the business have since transplanted to larger cities (first Chicago, now LA). Do you ever see yourself returning to small town life, or do you think you’ve become a lifelong city dweller?

B: Nope! No small town for me ever again. It’s not that I don’t miss some aspects of my Wisconsin upbringing (Shout out to my 4-H loves!), but I’m a big city guy now.  I love the variety, restaurants, culture, and the energy that the random nooks and neighborhoods that cities offer. Maybe it has to do with my love for travel and exploration, but the bigger the city, the more I feel connected to the place. 

H: You attended Columbia College and had a double major. One of those was Fiction Writing. Did young Byron picture himself penning the next great American novel?

B: I don’t think I ever pictured creating the next “Big American Novel”. OK, that’s a total lie. Well, maybe not such much an epic Hemmingway style, but like, a best seller so I could be a guest on “The Tonight Show” and talk about being a cool writer while wearing stellar fashions while I get interviewed.

I also did have a love for R.L. Stine and the Boxcar Children collection while growing up and always thought it would be awesome to inspire younger people to read.  

H: Let’s dive into your experience. What was your first ‘gig’ in the world of writing? Unpaid work counts. 

B: My first gig was as editor for a literary magazine, NOTA, at the first college I attended (I transferred three times!) in Eau Claire , WI. Some of my fondest memories are reading piles of submissions and then to the wee hours of the morning with my fellow editors. Oh, and we used to sponsor monthly open mics and I used to perform in them. 

I repeat: I used to run poetry readings in college. On Fridays. I used to spend Friday nights doing reading poetry I had written. I was that guy. 

My first journalistic/freelance gig was with a Chicago (now defunct) magazine, UR Chicago. I wrote a “single-guy-dating-in-the-city” style column that was first-person narrative of my life. It brought story telling and a journalistic-like approach to a gay person’s dating life. I got paid absolutely nothing to do it but still loved every single moment of writing it. 

H: How did your first writing internship/job outside school come together? 

B: I never had an official full-time writing job that wasn’t freelance, however, I did have A LOT OF FREAKING JOBS before I got the gigs I have now. Once I counted that I’ve had like, forty jobs since I was sixteen. That ranges from working in a movie store, shooting pictures of babies and families in a mall photography studio, waiter at a martini bar, wedding photographer, clothes folder, commercial actor, nanny, bartender, gym front-desk attendant, magazine salesman, office manager, museum docent and SO MANY (TOO MANY!) more.

I honestly believe all those jobs brought me to my writing and art. I did those jobs to stay financially afloat so I could concentrate on finding what I really wanted to do in life. So, in essence, all those jobs were like an internship. Each job taught me about myself, my work, my goals, and helped me pay rent.  They also kept me focused on mastering my love for making stuff so I NEVER HAVE TO GO BACK TO PICKING UP SWEATY TOWELS AT A GYM FRONT DESK. 

H: Your majors do not necessarily lend themselves to the world of entertainment journalism. Who or what initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing? Specifically, the entertainment journalism side of things.

B: My parents have always been supportive of my writing. Actually, many teachers through out middle and high school were as equally supportive. 

On the journalism side, one of my mentors/good friends/ Editor of Splash magazine at the Chicago Tribune, Molly Each (check her out at mollyeach.com, she’s brilliant), was the first to really introduce me to fun freelance writing. She helped me score a gig at a magazine in Chicago where I got to cover everything from local fashion parties to style and it allowed me to explore my writing interests while focusing on my writing voice. She’s really been the main supporter of my writing career and I couldn’t thank her enough for that!

I also have to shout out my partner who is the motivator of my writing. Having a guy that listens to me read him my original drafts to offer his opinion is love. Trust me, original draft listening isn’t often pretty. 

H: We discovered you through your efforts at MTV, but you have been published in a number of internationally recognized publications and blogs. Did you have any full time roles in the world of writing before becoming a freelancer? What lead you to step away from the ‘norm’ and dive into freelance?

B: I mentioned before that I never had an official full-time job in writing, but I did have a staffed position at a travel magazine called Where while living in Chicago. It’s one of those glossy mags you pick up in a hotel in major cities. I covered the shopping section each month. It was still freelance, but it had specific deadlines, meetings, and expectations much like a full-time job. 

I’ve been lucky to have so many opportunities to not have to get a full-time gig. Would I take a full-time job—absolutely, Especially if it was good one! But my dogs are resting on my feet as I gather my morning pitches as we speak and I couldn’t ask for a better office environment than that! 

H: How would you describe your writing style to people who may have never stumbled across your work before today?

B: I think it’s authentic to who I am in real life. It’s conversational, witty, punny, approachable, but it also takes many thoughtful introspective angles. It all really depends on what I’m writing for. My MTV voice is fun and sometimes sassy, my stories and essays can take a different, equally fun, tone. 

I always want my writing to speak to a reader with a confidence that makes them want to trust the reasons they chose to take the time to read and engage in my work. However, I also want to offer an authentic vulnerability that makes them feel that I’m just like them and trying to figure out how what the heck this life is about while we all live together on a giant rock called “Earth” that’s just chilling in space. 

Translation: I like to write like how I converse when I am on my second glass of wine at a dinner party—Buzzy  without the sloppy slurring. 

H: Without going too in-depth, please walk us through a normal work day:

B: I wake up and stalk pop stars on Instagram (I pitch a lot of photo interest stories to MTV), hit up a coffee shop for breakfast, feed the pups, hit the MTV Buzzworthy blog to get my stories in as soon as possible (Most of the time, our pieces ask for quick turn around). I take my dogs on a long walk to the dog park so I can clear my head, think about what’s next in the day or get inspired. (Seriously, go to a dog park if you’re every frustrated with work –creative or not. Seeing dogs live up life, chilling with each other and barking because it feels good is the best way to realize that no matter what you do today, it’s pretty awesome to have the chance to do it. )

Later, I work on my book(s) I’m writing, search the Internet for funny stuff to post on my friend’s Facebook walls, search for GIFs that properly express my feelings. Then I spend time searching for places to send my literary work, work on more personal work, search for more GIFs that express my feelings.  

H: Beyond paychecks and steady work, how do you measure your success in writing?

B: There is nothing more gratifying than when a random reader sends me a twitter message or email saying “I loved your work!”  Even more special is when someone contacts me to say how an essay or story I wrote changed their life, made them decide to do something they were on the fence about, or made them feel confident knowing they weren’t alone in an experience I also once had myself. 

I had a teenager read a story of mine that talked about being in the closet in a small town and said that it saved him from doing something drastic to his life. To me, stories that connect us to people we have never met and probably will never meet, is the power of the writer. I feel fortunate enough to have that gift and chance to connect to others. Sometimes that connection with others is about Rihanna; sometimes that connection is about changing someone’s perception on life. 

H: You do a lot of work outside the world of journalism as well. From storytelling events, to teaching, and even running The Everyday Gay. As someone who seems to have done or created everything he’s wanted, what goals do you have for the future? What areas of writing and entertainment would you like to pursue further, or perhaps look into for the first time?

B: I’ve been the luckiest dude ON THIS PLANET when it comes to the chances I’ve gotten with my work. Partaking and winning The Moth, being a part of 2nd Story in Chicago (check them out: www.2ndstory.com), being published in anthologies and working with so many talented editors in the media business have all been amazing gifts that I will never take for granted. 

BUT I WANT MORE! 

I’m currently working on my book, collecting short stories for another idea, concentrating on my essay collection and have a dream of writing a children’s book (or collection of those). I’ve always had a dream of being a travel show television host—not giving up on that.  I used to do on camera acting/commercial work and loved the scene and I think there’s a great way to tell stories. 

H: A lot of the people reading this are young writers currently starting out in, or at least considering beginning a career in the world of journalism/criticism. What advice would you offer these people to help further their efforts?

B: There’s the classic advice like, “Stick to it!” or “Don’t get frustrated when you don’t get published!”  Those are always legit. 

However, I’m going to serve up some professional advice realness: Meet your deadlines. I don’t care who or what you’re writing for, don’t be that person that is always late with copy or doesn’t turn around a re-write for a literary magazine on time. It’s rude, it frustrates editors, and that bad reputation will get around to other editors. It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many professional writers don’t stay on deadline. I’ve actually gossiped with editors about writers that are like this and how they are chucked to the bottom of lists during assignment time. 

Also, be nice to your editors. THEY WORK THEIR BUTTS OFF and are under a lot of stress. Trust me. Just like any other job, being a freelance writer is about maintaining graces and understanding that it’s not all about you. I am so grateful for all the editors I’ve ever worked with during my career. It’s a collaboration that has taught me to be a better writer.

H: What is your favorite article you’ve written recently? If you have two, go ahead and share both.

B: My favorite article would have to be about Lady Gaga meeting the infamous “YAAAS Gaga” fan! http://buzzworthy.mtv.com/2014/02/18/lady-gaga-yas-gaga-fan/

I also want to give a shout out to two stories collections I’m in: 

Finally, I’m in two books: http://www.amazon.com/Briefly-Knocked-Unconscious-Low-Flying-Duck/dp/0984670068

http://www.amazon.com/Windy-City-Queer-LGBTQ-Dispatches/dp/0299284042/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393435876&sr=1-1&keywords=dispatches+from+the+windy+city

H: I noticed on your personal website there is a pie chart about the things you quote the most, with Sex & The City taking up 50% of the image. Do you think there should be a third film, or did the sequel spoil all the fun? I still tell people I’m a Miranda.

B: I am not joking when I say that I will write, direct, and do whatever it takes to get that third SATC film out in to the world. It needs to be finished. I wasn’t a fan of the second film, but we need the completion. GIVE IT TO US NOW, PARKER. 

H: Looking ahead to the rest of 2014, do you have any projects or special events planned you can share with us? 

B: As I mentioned before I’m just working on my book. I’m also hoping to get back in to live storytelling. You can follow my twitter (@byronjflitsch) to get those details or check out my site.

H: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?

B: We need to tone down the epic “It’s coming”  build up of albums. So many pop stars build up their forthcoming music via their social media accounts or with such gigantic buzz and then the music comes and we’re like, “meh.” 

When Beyoncé dropped her latest masterpiece out of nowhere the world STOPPED. They weren’t expecting it so we dropped everything to listen to it to build our own expectations. I think that’s a part of music we have lost—building our own expectations and not using all the hoopla to get us to create our own opinion.  I think surprising fans is more of a statement than wooing them.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.