Monday, February 9, 2015

Steampunk Granny's Interview of Andy Burns, Author of Wrapped In Plastic: Twin Peaks

I have the pleasure of being one of the writers for this amazing pop culture site called Biff Bam Pop! This fun and informative site offers reviews of comics, music, films, books, and video games. This year Andy Burns, Editor-In-Chief of Biff Bam Pop, saw the release of his first book, Wrapped in Plastic: Twin Peaks (ECW Press).  I had never watched the show and was curious as to why there was such a cult following for the 1990 television series created by David Lynch and Mark Frost.

Why did Andy write a book about the show? What started his love affair for a show that was disturbing yet campy? To understand the show, I first had to learn more about the man who wrote about it. Join me as I chat with Andy Burns.

Marie Gilbert: Hi Andy. What started you writing and what led to you creating Biff Bam Pop?

Andy Burns: I was seven years old when I first started writing and I wrote all the way through high school, then did my undergrad for English and Creative Writing at the university. Basically my career trajectory got me into radio because I’m a pretty big music guy and eventually I was working at a Toronto radio station as a producer for a morning show, but it was a horrible job. It was the worst, but at the same time, I knew a lot of writers in my social circle who were creatively bent and we liked to talk about pop culture.

This was around 2008 and there were lots of people who had websites and blogs and I knew enough people that had some talent so I said, “Why don’t we do this?” A bunch of us started Biff Bam Pop at the end of August of 2008. We thought we’d all have aliases or different names, but what ended up happening, as often does, is that someone gets left holding the bag. That person ended up being me. I liked having an outlet to write about stuff that wasn’t related to my day job. I liked being surrounded by people who wanted to write, but it reached a point where I said, “Why don’t we take this a little more seriously.” Those who wanted to take it more seriously, stayed on. We started to get interviews and got on the record labels’ radar so we could review music or do interviews when DVD’s came out, and so, it went from there.

This is going to be our seventh year that this site has been running and, basically from the beginning, there’s been myself, there’s been J.P. Fallavollita, who you know, and another fellow that you haven’t met, David Ward, who has been around pretty much from the beginning. In 2009, I met Glenn Walker. We went from being online acquaintances to him becoming my right hand man co-running the site. Glenn is incredible with all the work that he does. And, along the way we’ve had people come and go. Some people will stick with it, or we get people who will come in for just a little bit, but there is a real power group right now. I think it’s the best line up of writers that we’ve had in seven years which includes you, of course, and Amanda Blue and it has J.P., Glenn and Luke Sneyd and Ensley Guffey and K. Dale Koontz, Leo Craven, and so many others.

                                           Glenn Walker, Right Hand Man
We have this really incredible group of writers who all do it for the love of writing and for the opportunity of having a place to show their stuff which I think that’s what Biff Bam Pop is, because none of us are making any money from thi. Even still, I personally think that none of us are working for free because we all get these great opportunities by having a really cool site. We get to interview cool people and get to review movies and get to review DVD’s and get to do great work. In the seven years that the site has been around, I’ve gotten my day jobs because of the quality of the site.

Marie Gilbert: Oh, that’s great.

Andy Burns: Yes. It’s the first thing on my resume. Forget the day job stuff that I do. It’s the first thing because with the help of all you guys, I can run a professional website. So I don’t think any of us work for free. I think we work for opportunity, like the opportunities that have presented themselves to me. I got to write a book, which would never have happened without the work that I put in and that we all put into Biff Bam Pop. It just would not have happened.

Marie Gilbert: You had published a book last year, Strange World.

Andy Burns: Yes, when we started the site that was something we tried to do for a little while. We tried to have these yearly events. We did two years of Halloween digital comics that we then put into hard copy format and that was successful and we sold a bunch of them, but we weren’t there for the money, so basically, it was the creative endeavor. It was successful and J.P Fallavollita did ninety percent of the art work and a bunch of us all did stories. It was incredible.


Then, we did Strange World, which was a short story anthology and that’s how you and I met because you put in a great story for Strange World. I remember our e-mail conversation and I felt bad because I said that we weren’t going to use it. It wasn’t because it was bad. It wasn’t bad. It was great, but it wasn’t what we were looking for in that particular anthology. But, small miracles because then you and I met and you’re the hardest working writer on the site.

Marie Gilbert: It was meant to be. I was meant to write for you and it was because of that book, Strange World.

Andy Burns: Absolutely and in Strange World we have some great stuff on there, good stories and, I’m proud of the story that I put in there. I used to write fiction, but I don’t very much anymore. Every so often, I come up with an idea and maybe I’ll finish it and maybe I won’t, but I managed to finish the story that’s in there and I’m definitely proud of that. Strange World was sort of a grand experiment in a way but I learned, as you know, self-publishing is hard work.

Marie Gilbert: Yes it is.

Andy Burns: Getting published is hard, self-publishing is hard, so it was a little bit hard getting done with Strange World, but it was a good experience and all the guys on the site banded together and put out a quality piece. It was pretty cool and I had Jonathan Maberry, a best New York Times bselling author, who wrote the introduction and people can still pick it up today. You can find Strange World on but, that was the first foray for us into doing that kind of fiction and, it’s definitely different from what I ended doing with my book.”

Marie Gilbert: Talking about your book, you can tell that this was your baby, but how did you get involved with the show? How old were you when you saw Twin Peaks?

Andy Burns: The show premiered in the spring of 1990. I watched it during the summer reruns on ABC. I watched it with my mom and I was thirteen years old, and basically, Twin Peaks was all the rage. It was a big freaking deal for everybody. It was a show that was unlike anything else. It was weird, quirky and mysterious. I loved it right away for whatever reason, it’s hard for me to even pinpoint what it was that I loved because I was a young kid. I was thirteen years old. I was into the supernatural aspects of the show and the mystery of it and, there were good looking girls on it too.

It was just so different and I just stuck with it. It went from having close to forty million people watching it on its debut, then through thirty episodes, to losing three quarters of its audience, but I stuck with it the whole time. It’s a show that is beloved by so many, but for all the brilliance of it, one of the things I talk about with people is that it’s not a perfect show. I know that you’ll see it, Marie, as you catch up and as you watch it.

The first season of the show is really what the legacy is, what the legacy is based on, but what you get in the second season is some really crappy moments, but if you stick with it, you’ll find moments of brilliance along with the crappiness. It’s not a perfect show by any stretch. There are just some poor storyline choices, but for whatever reason, it stuck with me my entire life.

I taped it when it was first on air. I would tape it on VHS, then if I would be sick through my high school years, often times, I would go back and watch the show. In the 2000’s it came out on DVD three times and I bought it three times. This last year, it came out on Blu-ray and of course I bought the Blu-ray. There was a movie prequel that came out in the summer of 1992 and I went to see it on the opening day by myself. I snuck into an R rated movie to see it. With everything that I’ve watched through adolescence until adulthood, there have been a couple of things that stuck with me like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that show was very near and dear to me as a late teen and into my twenties, but Twin Peaks has been with me for twenty-five years.

When the opportunity came for me to pitch a book for the ECW Press Pop Classic Series, it was the first thing that came into my brain and, it was the only thing. I was just very lucky that my editors, Crissy Calhoun and Jennifer Knoch were for me doing it. Now there is a book out and it’s pretty cool.

Marie Gilbert: It’s a good book and very insightful.  Did you do research on the people behind the show. Did you interview any of them?

Andy Burns: I did a bunch of interviews, Basically the way the Pop Classics series works and the best way to describe it is that it’s a thesis; a thirty thousand word thesis on why something in pop culture has ongoing merit. Interviews were not a prerequisite for writing the book, the idea for the book was, Twin Peaks was one of the most influential shows in the last twenty-five years and here is why.

I had great conversations with my editors who said, “You don’t have to do interviews. We want your opinions and thoughts and that’s what the book is based on.”. For me, part of the fun of doing any projects that are remotely similar to this, I go out and do the interviews and I’d want to do it because I’m curious and I’d want to do it because it is a great opportunity to talk to people you admire. It may not be a prerequisite, but I ended up talking to a bunch of the writers and co-producers.

Around the same time that I was working on my second draft, I ended up doing a cover story on Twin Peaks for Rue Morgue Magazine, which is the biggest horror magazine in the world. I ended up doing a whole bunch of interviews. I had the opportunity to talk to Ray Wise, who plays Leland Palmer and I talked to Kimmy Robertson who plays Lucy the sheriff’s secretary and who is one of the sweetest women I have ever met.

                                        Andy with Kimmy Robertson                

I also had the opportunity to talk to Sheryl Lee who played Laura Palmer and who the entire series revolved around. It was pretty crazy because I spoke to Sheryl in February of 2014 and, by complete coincidence, the night I spoke to her was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of her character, which neither one of us knew until that day because I’m on a few Twin Peaks’ boards and someone mentioned it. I said to Sheryl, “You know it’s funny that you and I are talking about this and it’s the anniversary of Laura’s death.”

Sheryl Lee, Andy Burns, Ray Wise, and
                                                  Sherilyn Fenn                                                            

The book gave me opportunities to talk to the people I admired and do my interpretation of the series of why Twin Peaks has been so influential, and what was unique about it, and what did the series do that no other television show had ever done before. Hopefully, it delivers and gives the fans things to think about. It was a great opportunity to write the book, but I’m just as much a fan as everyone else, so the whole thing was to write a book for people like me, for people who love the series and give them something to think about, and give them something they already know wrapped up in one place, and see if their interpretations match my interpretation or if they’ll think I’m nuts and say I totally don’t agree with this guy. This is one of the cool things with Twin Peaks. It’s open to interpretation.

Marie Gilbert: I think you know exactly what you’re talking about because just with me reading your book and then watching the pilot for the first time, I thought that you hit on everything: the characters, scenes and what was happening. I felt very comfortable watching the pilot and I was able to appreciate the show because your book helped me to focus on what was important. Was that your intention when you wrote the book?

Andy Burns: I think so and I appreciate you saying that. The audience for the most part and, you’re the exception Marie, because you haven’t watched the series but you’ve read the book, the appeal of these sort of titles are for the fans. These are the people who are going to pick up the books. If I can get the person who is reading the book and give them something to think about; that’s all you really want to do. You want to prove your point like a university thesis. The point is: Twin Peaks was one of the most influential series; here is why.

My favorite example is in the pilot when Sheriff Harry Truman and Agent Cooper meet for the first time and you get this long shot, which was very unusual for television, and I remember reading reviews of the series and people talking about using the long shots and saying this is unheard of in television. That was something that always stuck with me and then you go back and watch it and the importance of the style of that shot is what made the show unique, and hopefully, the fans who are reading this either already know and say yeah that was a cool shot or, someone will say they never noticed that shot before.

So, you want to tell a story even if it’s sort of a thesis driven book; you still want to tell the story. You want to take people on a journey even if it’s a bit cliché to say something like that, but you do want to take them through a beginning a middle and an end. That’s how Crissy and Jen approached this pop classic series and that’s certainly how I approached it when I wrote the book: how did the show come together; how did David Lynch and Mark Frost get together to create this groundbreaking show? Then you have your middle: this is why it’s groundbreaking and you have a few chapters on the use of the supernatural and the depiction of family.”

Marie Gilbert: They were also dealing with subjects that were taboo.

Andy Burns: Absolutely, and from there you get to the end where the series is over. The series may be over, but the influence is just beginning and that is the end of the journey. It’s interesting and writing this book was hard work. Anyone who thinks you can go off and just write a book is full of shit.

Marie Gilbert: Yep.

Andy Burns: Maybe you’ve dealt with it as you spent more time writing. I’ve dealt with certain writers who think it’s that easy.

Marie Gilbert: It’s not easy.

Andy Burns: It’s not. If you have any sort of humility or insight into yourself; it’s not that easy. It takes a lot of time to write something and if you’re not making a living writing then you’ve got to balance your time. You’re asking, “How am I going to write this?” Especially, if you are a first time author like myself. It’s very different from my work with Biff Bam Pop or in my day job where I work in satellite radio. Writing, per se, is how I pay my bills, but when you go into the long form of storytelling, it’s very different. So anyone who thinks you can just sit down and pound out forty thousand words doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.

It takes time and God bless my editors because editors do not get nearly enough credit in the role of writing. I was blessed with editors who had great observations and great insight saying, “Hey, you might want to touch on this, or you might want to focus on that.” I’ve been super lucky with my editors and we were sympatico 99% of the time.

Marie Gilbert: Did either of your editors actually watch the show?

Andy Burns: “Yes, Crissy Calhoun was a big fan for years and I think Jennifer probably ended up watching it for this project. Crissy was sort of my day to day editor and then Jen came in. It’s their book line, but it was Crissy who I dealt with most of the time. She had fantastic insights. The best insight she gave me as we were going along was that I gravitate to the dark side when it comes to Twin Peaks. I gravitate towards the supernatural aspect, the horror aspect; the dark side. Crissy said, “You nailed the dark side, but it’s also a very funny show.”

Marie Gilbert: It is (both of us are laughing).

Andy Burns: It is and it was a really great observation because that’s not where my brain usually goes even though I’m laughing with everyone else who watches the show. When I watch the show, my brain gravitates to the dark side, but that observation from an editor opens it up into something else. Working with editors is just fantastic. Crissy specifically knew the show, but hey, it’s hard work. You know. You’ve written a book.

Marie Gilbert: Yes, it’s hard work.

Andy Burns: There is nothing easy about it.

Marie Gilbert: It’s a lonely job because you are isolated and into the zone when you’re writing.

Andy Burns: Absolutely and there are people who say that they write. You can say it, but then you actually have to do it. You know it’s funny because I’ve made a living as a writer for fifteen years now and I feel like I’m still earning my stripes. It’s nice to have a book out. You feel like you earned it a bit more at this point.

Marie Gilbert: I’m excited about this book and I feel that for people like me that have not seen the show, I think this book will help when the show returns. Soon, right?

Andy Burns: It will be on Showtime in 2016, which will be a great venue because it’s not on network, it’s on cable and anything goes on cable as we all know. David Lynch is committed to directing all nine new episodes. He’s co-writing with Mark Frost. It’s really an unprecedented thing where you have the two creators going back to their creation. You know we had a 2010 version of 90210 or we had the next generation of Dallas had Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray. They’re back, but it’s a new batch of creators and you’re not working with the same people, the ones who had the vision of Dallas in 1978-79. With Twin Peaks coming back in 2016, you have the creators and this is their vision what’s more unprecedented is that here you’re going to have unadulterated Twin Peaks.

Marie Gilbert: What I liked about your book, and you did an excellent job on the book, is that I’m coming to the Twin Peaks thing as a new fan and I’ve become invested in the show because of your book. There were things you pointed out for the pilot. You mentioned the music, the traffic light, the fan, but the funniest thing was Agent Cooper, who I could only describe as Fox Mulder on Quaaludes; so different than I expected from an F.B.I. agent in that time period. Your book will help people who saw the show and, people, like me, who haven’t. It’s a great bible of the show and, when the new show comes out in 2016, people will be ready for it.

Andy Burns: Thank you, Marie. I appreciate that and it’s nice to hear because I worried what fans will think because genre fans can be jerks. I was writing for the fans, but the reaction I got so far has been incredible and there was great support from the community. There is a huge Twin Peaks Community out there and these guys have been very encouraging and I’m glad that you dug it too. If it gives you a greater insight as you go along then the work I’ve done and the work that ECW has done to get the book out there was definitely worth it.

Marie Gilbert: Is your book the only book out there explaining the two seasons of Twin Peaks?

Andy Burns: There’s a really good book out there called Reflections by Brad Dukes and I met Brad last year at the Twin Peaks Fest in North Bend. Brad’s book is a “making of” where he went out and did all these interviews. If you’re interested in the making of Twin Peaks, then Brad’s book is a must have. Brad’s book is a very different; it is interview driven whereas my book is more interpretive. We’re not competing with each other because there is enough material in Twin Peaks. I would say get Brad’s book and get my book and that’s all you need to know about the show because there’s enough interpretation for everyone. Brad and I had talked about doing something together, so maybe we will. We’ll see.”

               Catherine E. Coulson as the Log Lady
Marie Gilbert: The books are bookends for the show.

Andy Burns: “Exactly. There have been other books on the series, very academic, but that’s not how I write or what I’m interested in doing. Hopefully, in my book there’s a bit of academic because it is thesis driven, but the method of writing is accessible.”

Marie Gilbert: Are there any shows out today that come close to Twin Peaks?

Andy Burns: True Detective is mind blowing and has the same creative wheelhouse as Twin Peaks. It’s a murder mystery, but very different in the way it breaks ground. It’s unique television. True Detective is it, as far as I’m concerned. I’m a huge fan of Hannibal and they are using the sort of imagery that Twin Peaks did. Hannibal is fantastic. For me, it’s those two shows. Hannibal is network, and what it gets away with is pretty freaking amazing with the level of storytelling and violence. I haven’t been able to re-watch True Detective or Hannibal the way I re-watched Twin Peaks and I know some people weren’t satisfied with the ending of True Detective, but I think as an overall piece of television, it was magnificent.”

Marie Gilbert; So, should I expect a book on True Detective or Hannibal from you?” (laughter)

Andy Burns: Writing a book is hard work, as you know, so I’m thinking of what I want to do next, if I want to do something. We’ll see. Some of the guys at Biff Bam Pop are mulling something over. Marie, this was a two year project from pitch to finish and that’s a lot of freaking time.

Marie Gilbert: Andy, the time was worth it. The book is great and I will be recommending it in my interview. What are your plans for Biff Bam Pop? Where are your goals for the site?

Andy Burns: That’s’ a very good question. I would like us to maintain this lineup of writers for as long as possible. The level of writing on this site is freaking great and I want to maintain that quality and I always want new voices on the site. I knew someone who used to write for the site and you can put this in here because, maybe, they will see it. Someone who used to work for the site would kind of moan that it was my site and that’s bullshit. Yeah, someone has to run it for the most part, so okay, I run it. I don’t run it by myself and, if I ever did, it was years ago. I haven’t run it by myself for an incredibly long time. I have Glenn, who finds value working his ass off writing for the site. I have you working your butt off writing for this site. I have writers contributing regularly every week on this site and when I say "I" I mean “We”. We have all done this.

Marie Gilbert: You’re the captain of the ship. You’re our fearless leader and you need a leader to get things done.

Andy Burns: “That’s fair enough, but at the end of the day, if it wasn’t for all of us together, it wouldn’t be a site. So, when someone used to say to me, “Oh it’s your site. I’m writing for your site.” I said, “Bullshit! We are doing this together. It’s 100% teamwork and, we have this freaking amazing team of writers. We have Ensley F. Guffey and K. Dale Koontz who have a book out on “Breaking Bad” and we have Glenn who is so involved with you and the South Jersey Writer’s Group. We’ve all got other things going on in our lives, but we all see the value of working together and putting our own voices into this website.”

Marie Gilbert: And, that is what makes Biff Bam Pop work. Biff Bam Pop works so well because you allow your writers to use their own voices in the posts they submit.

Andy Burns: Thank you for saying that because I only want people on this site that have their own voices and we are going to have someone joining up in a week or so and he talked about what he wanted to do and I said, “Do what you want to do. Just be yourself.” The best thing about this site is that we are all positive people and that comes out in the work and, anyone who is negative or has a negative slant on things, is not right for our site.

Anyway let’s hope for 2015 we just keep doing the good work that we’re doing and that there is more cool stuff out there that we like writing about and want to write about.

Marie Gilbert: Andy, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview and I know we’ll be doing a podcast on Twin Peaks and that will be very interesting.

Andy Burns: Yep, it was a great idea from Glenn and we’ll be doing the first season, soon.

Marie Gilbert: I’m excited about the book and so excited for you, Andy, and I’ll be recommending this book to everyone.

Andy Burns: Thank You.

While working on this interview, I learned that Andy's book had reached the number one spot for on the Television History and Criticism chart.

                Madchen Amick  and Kyle MacLachian                                                       

Okay my little zombie snacks my advice to you is to get Wrapped in Plastic: Twin Peaks by Andy Burns. It’s a fast moving and insightful look into a classic series that is best enjoyed over a cup of damn good coffee and a serving of cherry pie. 

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