If you are a fan what I do, feel free to stick around. If you’re not, well, I guess you wouldn’t be here in the first place. A blog, at least mine, can border on confessional, a diary entry, and after 16 no one wants to read that shit. At the same time, I don’t have a point to this, other than I need to keep writing, because the mind is a muscle; and the one thing worse than exercising is coming back to exercise after a long layoff. That’s not true. I exercise every day, and I rather enjoy it. At least compared to the rest of my life, which is fraught with annoyances, from minor to gripping.
Of course at some point (which is probably now), one has to look at the problem, and I am pretty sure I am the problem, the one consistent variable.
Like many writers, I’m sure, I’ve been in the grips of malaise. My writer friend Jennifer Hillier calls it a crossroads.
She’s not wrong.
I write a thriller series, the Jay Porter books. Except they aren’t really thrillers. I never set out to write “thrillers” or “mysteries” or “noir”; I wanted to write books. I settled on genre because the form–and we can use the all encompassing “mysteries,” I suppose–supplied a template I could understand. Writing, for me, had always been about exploring, not just character, but the depths and lengths, the edges and loses–what it’s like, not just for me, which would be boring, but for people like me. And there’s a difference. Because the latter implies a community. And writing isn’t done in a vacuum. I write to be read.
I just wrapped up Porter 5 (RAG AND BONE) and feel quite satisfied about the way I concluded the 5-book arc. I hope others do too. Those who enjoy the Porter series, I imagine will. Those who don’t like Jay or his choices, don’t like the grim and bleak tone (but who, for some fucking reason, keep reading) probably won’t. In short, I don’t backtrack. I move the storyline ahead, go forward to its logical, inevitable, and I hope surprising conclusion.
And I mention all this because now I don’t know what to do next. Being a writer who isn’t writing just might really be the worst feeling. At least for me. I need a purpose. Ever Porter book has a theme (which should make my high school English teachers very happy). The “theme” in book 5 is “purpose.” We need it. I need it. I need to be moving my feet, heading toward something. Otherwise I live in my head. My head is a like a rich chocolate cake: a little goes a long way; too much and you get sick.
I am sick man. I host a weekly app-cast called “Notes from the Underground,” a title I picked because of the opening line to Dostoyevski’s book. I’ve been sick for a while. I might be on the uptick now. Last year was savage. But my brother’s death hangs heavy, and the conversations we have now so mirror the ones Jay and Chris Porter have in my books, I’m not sure which came first.
So what do I write next? I have three books slated to come out with Down & Out Books, and while I am hoping they hit big, I can’t seem to climb over the insecurity that I am doing it all … wrong. On the heels of a cult novel like Junkie Love, I was riding high with Lamentation, got that Anthony nom, and it really felt like I was about to break through. I started getting bigger advances, more press. And then …
I’m not sure what happened. Or if anything did happen. That’s the thing with being sick, mentally, you don’t get a good read on reality. You can only go with reactions. From your publisher. From the critics. From agents. I don’t think the reaction is good. But I don’t know.
Crossroads. Crisis of faith. You can call it whatever you’d like. I woke up to an interview Hector Duarte Jr. gave for Jesse Rawlins, where people are saying all kinds of nice things about me, like I help others and am not a self-absorbed asshole, and it was touching, but also surprising because, again like many writers/artists, I spent so much of my day wondering if I am good at anything.
I’m a good dad. I am usually confident about that. But this weekend had me doubting even that. My wife Justine is in Greece, so it’s just me and the boys. Holden, Jackson, and I went bowling. But there were no lanes. So after they played video games and spent $9 trying to snag a Spongebob with the claw, because they are kids and don’t understand that those games are rigged, but hey it made them happy, and that makes me happy, we went to get ice cream. And it was a nice day, a nice moment, sunny, California cool/warm, and I love nothing more than being with my boys. We’re sitting in the ice cream shop, which is more a cafe, and bicyclists are out in droves, weaving in and out of traffic, and Jack Jack, who is three years old, goes, “Look at those people. Ugh. What a bunch of assholes,” and I know he got it from me, that I must’ve been driving at some point, and some bicyclist blew a stop sign, and I must’ve said that. Where else would he get it from? And Holden starts laughing, egging him on to say it again, and the people are looking at us. And I’m now trying to quiet two boys who are amped up and a 3-year-old calling bicyclists assholes, and I feel like shit, y’know? We get out of there, back in the car, and I’m trying to explain why Jack Jack can’t say that, why I was wrong, even though I don’t recall one specific incident, more like this is how I fucking am, all the time these days, just angry, raging at nothing at all. Except to my boys, who find everything I say hysterical, who think the world of me, who want to be like me. And I don’t want them to be like me. I want them to be like their mother. I don’t want them to be 47, running out of money, no agent, career in a tailspin, and feeling the things I do. Because as awesome as my boys and wife are, as great as my life is (THREE pars yesterday!), most of the time, I am … gripped … by a pervasive sadness, like a rain seeping deep into the mulch of my bones. I want my boys to have something more, better.
I tried to explain this to Holden, who again reiterated his desire to be just like me. I told him, I want him to be better than me. That is all any father wants, for their kids to be better than they are. I told him if he becomes a writer (which is what he says) that I want him to be a better writer. A better writer. A better father. A better person. That is all any father wants for his child. Of course being 7, he was half paying attention, half off in little kid world.
Later on, we were watching a movie, Ferdinand, about a bull. And of course (*Spoiler) the father dies because parents always die in little kid movies for some reason. But before the dad dies, he tells his boy that he hopes his son grows into a better bull than he is, that that is all any father wants for his child, to have a better life. And Holden looks over and says, “Hey, just like you always say, Dad.” So maybe he was listening. And maybe I just need to watch my language more. Maybe it’s not all falling apart. Maybe I did something good this weekend. Maybe I make a contribution to the betterment of the world at large. Maybe I’ll pull past this crossroads, and look back, and to quote the Boss, someday this’ll all seem funny. Because right now I got two little men that look up to me like I am everything; I can’t let them down. But still it’s a lot of pressure. I mean, I asked Holden who the best musician of all time was. I said, the one artist who is better than Frank Turner, Brian Fallon, and Craig Finn, who, as great as these three are, was more influential. I asked who is the best of all time? Of course my son replied, “You.” Rips your heart right out.