This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
“I feel extremely fortunate to have lived precisely the way I always wanted. Very few people can genuinely lay claim to that.” – Robin Brunet
B. C. based writer Robin Brunet has certainly achieved a lot in his 34 years in the business (“a good portion of that freelance”) but surely nothing could beat his assertion that he has lived a life “precisely the way I always wanted”.
Robin Brunet is currently a non-fiction best selling author for his compelling biography of the west coast Canadian broadcasting legend, Red Robinson. Perhaps less well known east of the Rockies, eighty year old Robinson has been referred to as the “Dick Clark of Canada.”
Robinson is still on the air as of this date (although scheduled to retire from Canadian airwaves at the end of the summer to coincide with the sale and demise of his current on air home, CISL 650, as Vancouver’s remaining AM music station).
TBF: So how did someone with no particular love of rock ‘n’ roll become involved in such a fascinating project?
ROBIN: I interviewed Red for another biography I was writing, about the ad man Frank Palmer (which will be published by Douglas & McIntyre next spring under the title Let’s Get Frank!), and we hit it off. We had the same world view.
Shortly afterwards, the ad man Dean Mailey asked me to write Red’s biography in the hopes it could be published in time to be cross-merchandised with a Red Robinson app he was developing. Red was keen on me writing the book, as he knew of my work and remembered my news stories I had written throughout the 1990s as a crime reporter for BC Report Magazine.
I viewed Red not so much as “Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll,” but as a consummate broadcaster, a field I think is fascinating and has evolved for the worse, much like journalism.
The only hitch: Dean wanted the book written in a month. This would have been impossible even if I had worked on it full-time (and I’m a fast writer); so Red and I set out a schedule that made sense. As it turns out, the book was finished before the app ever was, and everyone loves the book, but nobody seems to know the app exists.
TBF: How did you actually go about writing it? What were the mechanics of putting it together?
ROBIN: It was written on the fly. I would spend several hours with Red weekly, conduct phone and in-person interviews with others whenever I could, and began writing as I was still researching. Biographies are easy in that the story is all laid out for you, you just have to make it as complete as possible. Plus, I believe in clean, simple, energetic copy, no phoney profundities, no pretence of art. So the actual act of writing was pretty straightforward.
TBF: You are self-described as a “troubleshooter”. What aspects of its creation were most troublesome?
ROBIN: There were two troublesome aspects to the project. First were boxes and boxes of newspaper clippings, etc., about Red, dating back to the ’50s. This may sound like a windfall, and indeed I uncovered a lot of great stuff – but the clippings were grossly inaccurate, with accounts conflicting one another…. so I had to go over each one with Red and get the facts straight.
The second troublesome aspect was Red himself. He is a genuine nice guy. No affairs, no scandals, no brawls. This always threatened to make the book too upbeat and syrupy. One way I kept balance was to include Red’s friend Bruce Allen heavily in the book: he brought much needed ‘grit’ to the telling of Red’s story. Of course, as the writing progressed, I found much humour in Red remaining straight-laced considering the profession he was in, so I played off that.
TBF: It sounds like you really enjoy your work.
ROBIN: The money I make is good, and I work seven days a week to earn it. I don’t like time off: my last vacation was in the mid 1990s, and as long as I spend several hours a day with my horse, the evenings with my wife, and the odd hour in my basement working out or sculpting, I never feel drained.
TBF: How important is it to have interests outside of your work? I know you are passionate about animals and have a horse, how does that help balance the freelancing life (which is typically very unbalanced)?
ROBIN: It is absolutely, profoundly important. It is key, not only to balancing your life but making your life full and making you a more interesting person to be with. I already mentioned I work seven days a week with no holidays, but I refuse to pass through this life knowing only one thing. I am totally, thoroughly, immersed in the world of horses, and have worked just as hard to know this world over the span of 20-plus years as well as I do the writing world.
TBF: Let’s turn to your thoughts on freelancing in general. What is the best thing about freelancing?
ROBIN: The best thing is knowing you are living a unique life, period.
TBF: And the worst thing?
ROBIN: The worst thing is trying to maintain a sense of proportion. After a while, if an editor so much as asks you to re-write a lead, you worry later that night that this might be the beginning of your downfall. If a cheque is late in the mail, you worry that you might soon be out on the street.
TBF: Freelancing isn’t for everyone. What qualities do you feel are necessary to survive as a freelancer?
ROBIN: I’ve written a book on how to survive as a freelancer, it’s a comedy called Dirty Truths and currently under consideration by Harbour Publishing.
What you need is a strong sense of denial, an almost pornographic hunger to succeed, and the ability to lie. I’ve had these abilities for as long as I can remember. Denial will allow you to withstand the hordes of folk who tell you that your work appeals to no one; hunger will give you the drive you need to prevail and make a decent living in a profession that doesn’t pay very much; and lying gets you through innumerable closed doors – just be sure you can back up your lies by delivering good product.
TBF: How has modern technology made any significant impact on your career?
ROBIN: For years, I was a freelancer before the net and even cell phones. And while the internet has been a curse for the trade in many respects, it is a huge boon to me and others who want lots of work, because now my potential market is the entire planet instead of the city I live in. Its potential to keep a guy permanently employed is mind-blowing. I wish more Millennials appreciated this.
TBF: Speaking of younger colleagues, have you ever mentored anyone?
ROBIN: I will say this, to anyone who has achieved the level of success I have. At some stage it’s your duty to give back, and I have been fortunate to know several people over the decades who I was able to champion, in practical ways, most recently a fabulously talented woman who I provided with good contacts and paid writing assignments. She claims she is hungry to boot, to which I say, go out there and may your reach exceed your grasp.
TBF: What is your ideal kind of assignment?
ROBIN: My ideal assignment is one I get routinely, from editors who phone me in a panic, saying, “Robin, we’ve got a story that’s due in two days – we gave it to someone else and they blew it. We need you to come in, put out some fires, and get this done.”
TBF: So what’s next?
ROBIN: Let’s Get Frank in the spring, hopefully after that my book Dirty Truths, then my two novels – oh, and I’m working on the second volume of Red’s memoirs.
Other than that, business as usual: an average of three stories a day, maximum six. Wouldn’t want it any other way.
Many thanks to Robin for taking time from a busy schedule to share this thoughts with us today.
Red Robinson: The Last Deejay by Robin Brunet is published by Harbour Publishing and is available at local bookstores and everywhere via Amazon. Highly recommended if you have an interest in broadcasting and popular music even if you’ve never heard of Red – and especially if you have.
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