The Model Writer
Chris Campanioni is workin’ it. Here’s a guy who spent two days in bed with a Penthouse Pet – for pay. Who pounded the pavement looking for acting jobs – and became a semi-regular on “All My Children.” Who posts short video adaptations of his writing to his own YouTube channel.
A male model, an actor, a poet. A guy who’s not afraid to expose himself – sometimes, quite literally. In a way, nothing has prepared him more for writing a novel – in fact, he could be the template of the modern writer.
Say what? In an exclusive interview with RealClear’s G. Allen Johnson, the 28-year-old New York author of his debut novel “Going Down” explains.
“Writers cannot afford to be a Salinger,” said Campanioni, 28. “You have to be willing to market yourself. You really have to be your own brand. At first, I was pretty shitty about branding myself. When the book was being edited, I got on Twitter, got a website. I had to start really thinking about interesting ways to market myself in social media.”
Like drinking shots around a pool with scantily clad women – that’s one of his videos posted to his daily “video calendar,” a countdown to the release of “Going Down” this fall he posted on his website, chriscampanioni.com (see below). Or poetry readings – Campanioni is the winner of the 2013 Academy of American Poets Prize for Poetry for his collection “In Conversation.”
“I was conscious that I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing, and my publisher (Aignos Publishing) is very small,” Campanioni said. “So I wanted to make the marketing effort as much a work of art as the work of art itself.”
All of which would be meaningless if “Going Down” wasn’t worth reading. No problem there. The novel was a New York Post selection of must-read novels earlier this fall.
It’s about Chris Selden – a male model and journalist (Campanioni has worked at the San Francisco Chronicle and Newark Star-Ledger) who is drifting after college and finds himself in a conflicting world of fabrication – a commodity by day as a piece of beefcake and a slanter of truth as a member of the lamestream media at night. He struggles to find his identity in a culture where reality is a copy of a copy.
“I was always very much interested in this idea of authenticity and I found myself in industries that deal with that in very different ways,” Campanioni said. “There’s a line in the book where Chris Selden is dealing with his father and the father, who’s a banker, tells him to get a real job. Chris says, ‘What’s the difference between what we do – you sell shares and commodities, and I sell myself – meaning my natural abilities.' Your work is your worth. What do you feel is worth? Is it acquiring experience, or acquiring things?”
One experience Campanioni acquired – which finds its way into “Going Down,” natch -- was his experience working with 2007 Penthouse Pet of the Year Heather Vandeven – one of his first modeling assignments.
“It was a romance book,” Campanioni laughs. “I was still pretty young – I had just started modeling the year before, or not even. To me it was amazing to find myself with this girl. I felt like it was a scene from ‘Weird Science’ – this nerd and this amazing woman – and not just posing with her, there was some real sexual scenes there. Basically all of them were leading up to simulating an act of sex, on a two-day shoot. It was mind-blowing.”
Campanioni still models – even though he teaches Intro to Fiction at CUNY (City University of New York; one can imagine him in a modern-day version of that early scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” where Indiana Jones is stopped in mid-lecture by a gaggle of girls staring dreamily, love notes written onto their eyelids). But he is clear that he values his literary life and that he never got into the downside of the modeling scene (“It was probably good that I was working nights at the Star-Ledger, so that I didn’t have much of a social life,” Campanioni said).
“I met my current girlfriend at a clothing store,” Campanioni said. “Basically they hired me when the store opened to greet people dressed as a lifeguard. Everyone that was working there was a model of some sort, and within a few weeks of the store’s opening everyone had pretty much hooked up with everyone else. I wasn’t a part of that scene. … When I met my girlfriend, there was actual courting going on. It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s go clubbing and do it on the dance floor.’
Campanioni laughs. “I get asked a lot, ‘why didn’t you just write a memoir?’ Either there’s no such thing as a memoir, or everything is a memoir. The root of all creation is interpretation of memory.”
The author wants to make clear his message isn’t that the modeling world is fake and empty – he has many friends in the business, and he sees it as an extension of the challenges of a modern, fractured society. Campanioni’s writing, conceptually at least, is inspired by authors such as Edith Wharton and Cuban novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante (Campanioni is partly of Cuban descent). But his style is perfectly suited for the modern times – as much influenced by French New Wave cinematic jump cuts as “The House of Mirth”: There’s English intermixed with Spanish, as well as “interruptions” such as text messages, advertisements, even song lyrics.
If you adapted “Going Down” into a film, you could easily see making it a black-and-white noir; and just as easily a candy-colored Warholian fantasy.
“I try to represent a culture that has been saturated by media and noise, a condition which has made a new kind of communication possible,” Campanioni said.
It’s also a culture that reads dramatically fewer books than previous generations.
That’s why modern authors such as Chris Campanioni are workin’ it.
They have to.
Copyright 2013, RealClear.com