Writers don't need book deals the way they used to. Just ask Lulu, a Web service that allows users to upload their books onto its Web site (
) and print them using digital on-demand technology.
Last year Lulu also started what it called the Blooker Prize (a waggish allusion to the prestigious Booker Prize), awarding $10,000 to the writer of the best book that started life as a blog. (Publishing the book through Lulu is not a requirement.)
On Monday the Blooker Web site trumpeted three category winners and one overall winner, My War by Colby Buzzell, a smart and smart-aleck skate-punk from the San Francisco Bay Area who joined the Army at 26 out of boredom and frustration with low-paying jobs. He began blogging after he'd been deployed to Iraq, writing for an increasingly fascinated American public about what life in the Army, and at war, was really like. He got accolades from everyone from People magazine to Kurt Vonnegut, and his book was chosen for the Blooker out of 110 entries from 15 countries.
Reading the book (published by Penguin), it's obvious why Buzzell has gotten so much acclaim. His writing has real, distinctive style, and he's as guileless as he is funny. With every sentence, you know this guy is telling you the truth.
One of the Blooker judges, British journalist Nick Cohen, calls the book "something of a triumph for blogs over traditional media."
In a phone conversation from his parents' home outside San Francisco, Buzzell said he wrote about his life before the Army, too, keeping "a diary of my so-called life in a journal of sorts," as he says in his book.
But he never showed his writing to anyone and didn't aspire to become a writer. He just found that writing made the days go by faster, which he craved during what he calls a low point in his life.
When he knew for sure he'd be sent to the Middle East, he went out and bought a bunch of journals so he'd have something to do there. Once in Mosul, he read an article in Time magazine that talked about blogs, including soldiers blogging about the war. He went to the Internet cafe to look at a few:
"I thought, 'I could do this,' and I just started a blog right then and there."
He chose the name "My War" after a Black Flag song.
"At first I didn't think anyone really read blogs. I mean, I knew there were people reading them, but I thought it was like a dozen people. But I thought, 'That's cool, I'm bored, this'll keep me entertained.' The next thing I knew I was getting hundreds of e-mails and thousands of hits."
Buzzell said many of his readers were people who had sons and daughters, husbands or wives, fighting in Iraq, because they couldn't find out what was really happening from the news or even from their family members.
"When people called home from the call center, they never wanted to talk about the Army, and I never wanted to talk about Iraq either when I talked to my family. I wanted to talk about other things."
But on his blog he wrote about it all, including unsettling descriptions of his missions (he changed names and location details for security reasons), the little girl in Baghdad who tried to share her candy bar with him, and the fact that a female soldier was raped in the bathrooms right beside the tent he slept in.
In the two years since he's been back from Iraq, Buzzell has worked as a freelance writer. He recently got back from a trip to China, where he was sent on assignment by Esquire.
Blooker prizes in the fiction and comics categories went to Andrew Losowsky for The Doorbells of Florence and Brian Fies for Mom's Cancer, respectively.
Losowsky is a British journalist and editor who lives in Spain. During a visit to friends in Florence he walked around the city, "looking for something to give my stroll . . . some focus. I noticed that Italian doorbells all carry the names of the people who live there - and that they display those names in markedly different ways. I took more than 100 photos that day."
About a year later, when he was looking through the pictures, his "overactive imagination" took over and he started writing stories about the people he imagined lived behind those doorbells, posting them on Flickr as he went. The series got more than 12,500 viewers.
Losowsky said he was excited to win the prize, adding, "Let's see if any mainstream publishers take note."