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Editor of Fan Phenomena: The Big Lebowski

There's a long tradition of academic books on this infinitely complicated movie; it seems like every time you watch the film you see something new, and everyone brings an interesting theory into the mix. Fan Phenomena: The Big Lebowski is the newest serious book to tackle the Dude, and it features both a chapter about Two Gentlemen of Lebowski and an interview with author Adam Bertocci (that's me).

I love these sorts of books. I was a film major in college, and many books like this one line my shelves. I was curious about how they all came together…


How did all these contributors find out that a book was being done about the movie and that submissions were being asked for? (I need to keep my ear to the ground in case they do one on Ghostbusters!)

I placed the call for papers on a few listservs (H-Net and U-Penn), as well as on a Facebook page devoted to fan studies. That’s about it. I considered contacting people who have contributed to earlier volumes on The Big Lebowski, but I knew the film's popularity could easily attract some new voices.

Did people submit completed papers to you, or a proposal for a chapter?

They submitted short proposals.

Is this the sort of thing any committed and serious writer could have gotten into, or does one have to be sort of within the academic club—i.e. was there a requirement to have a certain level of degree, or within a certain set of topics, or what-have-you… or was the writing everything.

The chapters are short (about 3,000 words) and they strive for a general readership, so I think that anyone could have gotten involved, but it is hard to hear about these types of opportunities if you are not in the 'academic club'. There were certainly no requirements as to education.  Although most are professors, one contributor just recently completed his B.A.

How many submissions did you receive?

Fourteen or fifteen.

What were your criteria for choosing?

They needed to cover some aspect of fandom.  I received some really interesting proposals that would have been fine for a general book on The Big Lebowski, but not for a book devoted to the film's fandom.  I also wanted to cover as many subjects as possible: artifacts, festivals, philosophies, etc., so that also factored into my decisions.

What was something that surprised you in the submissions process?

This book came together really quickly. From the time that Intellect gave me the notification to proceed, I had less than six months from posting the call for papers to submitting the volume to the publisher! What surprised me is that none of my contributors ever complained about the short deadline. I think they were all excited about getting this type of book out there.

How many of your contributors would you say are—how shall I put it—closer to Lebowski fandom than a point of anthropological objectivity? (Put bluntly, are they Achievers?)

I would say that most of the contributors would call themselves Achievers, but each one was also able to write from a scholarly prospective and achieve some objective distance when discussing the phenomenon in question.

My experience is in commercial publishing. Tell me a bit about the academic publishing world.

In general, I love academic publishing. It offers so many opportunities. The only frustrating thing at times is publishing schedules, even with the same publisher. I have contributed to some books that have been released only months after my writing. But I have also written for one book, for instance, that still has not come out, even though I contributed to the book almost four years ago.

Does academic publishing have any of the commercial interests and pressures of, well, commercial publishing? There's an ancient joke that academic books have a guaranteed sales minimum of one copy to every college library, which is also the guaranteed sales maximum. Does that safe little world still exist, or does the academic author bite his nails about sales as much as the first-time novelist?

You sure do know the academic publishing world!  Yeah, I know that my books so far have relied heavily on academic library sales, but I admit I still check my sales reports on Amazon fairly often. I also eagerly anticipate receiving my sales reports from the publishers, not so that I can get my (miniscule) royalty checks, but to get a more accurate account of the books’ sales. Otherwise, they never contact me about the sales, perhaps due to the lowered expectations of academic publishing. But to answer your question, I can assume the pressures are much less.

Where else can those who enjoy the Fan Phenomena line go for serious, yet fan-friendly, writing about movies?

Intellect's World Film Locations series is really fun.  Each volume focuses on a particular city, including about fifty morsel-sized, 250-word scene reviews on particular film locations in that city, along with about five longer essays.  These reviews situate the scene within the context of the entire film, as well as discuss some of the background of the location.  They also make great travel guides for the film buff!
Thanks to acclaimed film and media scholars like Henry Jenkins and Will Brooker, "aca-fandom" (scholarly study from self-professed "fans") is now perfectly acceptable within the academy, which may not have been the case ten to fifteen years ago. So I think that even those who did not consider themselves scholars should check out books from academic publishers. I know I did before embarked on film as an academic course of study.

Thanks for playing ball, Zachary. Fan Phenomena: The Big Lebowski comes out May 15, 2014.