Tag Archives: Writing

How I Do It

I was talking shop w/ Greg Levin today. Well, I mean messaging on Twitter because no one actually talks to people anymore (gross). I was telling him I liked his blog, lamenting about when I used to do it more, and how I should again, and now that I am, doing it again that is, blogging, I remember why I stopped. I fucking hate it. It’s stupid.

Writing is stupid.

That’s a joke between my buddy Tom Pitts and me. I can’t recall who came up with the zinger. But we bandy it back and forth pretty regularly these days when one (or both) of us is suffering an existential crisis of writerly faith. Which is invariably.

It’s a gallows humor. I think. Because what almost always follows is either Tom or I texting, “You get the water, and I’ll get the spoon!” Since Tom and I, well, y’know.

Of course nothing is “wrong.” I just released a new book Monday, Skunk Train, while simultaneously proofing a copy of the next one (Occam’s Razor), which is due out in the spring, only to be followed by my first book with new publisher Polis, The Lakehouse, which is out in September. 3 books in 9 months. Pretty cool. There was a time, not too long ago, where I remember telling my friend Adam if I could just get one book published …

That was 2013. Now I have over a dozen, and it means … so little. And before I sound too much like an ungrateful prick, let me explain.

All I’ve ever asked of this life/God/the Universe was a chance to make my living as an artist. I got that. I have nothing to complain about, I am grateful, and I know this second opportunity at life is a blessing and a gift. Forget the art part, just getting out of these January rains, off the streets, packing back on some meat–not dying diseased and alone in a gutter–is a miracle. My wife and boys, the house, the rest of it isn’t icing on cake; it’s what goes on top of the icing. I guess those little confectionary dot thingies, nonpareils, funfetti. Whatever. This isn’t going where I thought it would. Which works both in context and theme.

At the time I made that comment to my friend Adam, we were in a gym. He was my personal trainer. I’d just come from Miami. This was early after what we call the accident. I wasn’t married yet. No kid(s). Justine and I had just started dating. So maybe 2008? ’09? I knew the prognosis for the motorcycle damage was going to get worse–all the doctors told me–but I didn’t really believe it. If I’ve had one thing that’s kept me going, it’s my iron will, resolve, indefatigable pigheadedness. I was still bench pressing three+ plates back then (that’s over 350 lbs.). I didn’t need a cane. Like death, I thought I’d be the exception to prove the rule. Because I’ve never really believed I am going to die. I remember my brother once saying the same thing to me. Before he, y’know, died.

Writing books is for entertainment. I write novels to entertain. I tackle themes, there’s a center and shit I want to say, but it’s not my therapy (I have many, many doctors for that). The blog is also to entertain, but moreover I use it, especially now, to offer a glimpse behind the curtain, a peek behind the scenes; to elucidate a little more of the process. 

With each new release, I hear more and more, “I don’t know how you do it. How you write so many books!” How it takes them years, etc. But here’s the thing. I’m incredibly lazy. I feel incredibly lazy. I mean, this is all I fucking do. No day job. Kids in school. It’s this and golf and lifting weights, and I can’t golf right now because it’s cold, raining, and pissing off my wife, and I can’t lift weights like I used to because my fucking body is fucking failing me. My hip, my back, my shoulder–which wasn’t even part of the original equation–it’s all breaking down. I’m falling apart. Lately I’ve noticed bags under my eyes, more gray, and yeah, yeah, getting older, accept it, cherish, wrinkles are time’s way of saying whatthefuckever. Hang it next to the Live, Laugh, Love sign at your house that I’m never visiting. Because I didn’t sign up to break even, I didn’t pick my ass up off the street for a tie. I’m playing this game to win.

I don’t much feel like I’m winning these days. I can’t bench more than a couple hundred pounds anymore. My mid-irons still suck. I’m tired all the time. With each new release and lackluster sale, I feel I’ve learned more and know less, which leaves me wondering … why bother?Now you may read this and go, “Wow, that’s a recipe for unhappiness!” and you’d fucking be right. It’s setting myself up to fail. With each new book, there is less celebration and more pressure that this must be the one to break me through. And when it doesn’t? (And it never does.) I just keep working on something new, plowing ahead, no quit. That’s what I tell all my writer friends when they come to me after their first book comes out and they’re watching the sales, or lack thereof: AB … um, W. Always Be Writing. (It works better as an Alec Baldwin speech).

A watched pot, etc. The Waiting Place in Dr. Suess’s Oh, the Places You’ll GoFor the people … just waiting. Waiting for a bus to come or a plane to go or the snow to snow or the fucking rain to stop so I can fucking golf and get outside of my head that’s conspiring to destroy me.

See, my advice isn’t working. I have been writing. I have two new books well underway, almost a hundred thousand words combined. One a mystery/thriller/whatever it is I do, and the other, the oft-requested “Holden” book, a memoir follow-up to Junkie Love. I don’t know what it’s gonna be. It’s still taking shape. But it’s not helping, this advice. I am moving. I am writing. And it’s driving me slowly insane. I am back up to a pack a day. And, sure, they are candy cigarettes (real cigarettes cause cancer; don’t smoke), but still … We don’t get rid of habits, only substitute them.

Anyway, the kids are screaming and I have to help put them to bed.

I have spoken.

This is my update. Not that anybody asked for it. But when the next book drops in a few months, and you find yourself wondering, “How’s he do it?” Well, here’s your answer. Intense self-loathing, ennui, morbid curiosity, depression, anger, hate, suicidal ideation and escapist fantasies. Most of all, it’s beating myself up, until these stubborn words come out, even if the only way they will is with the blood gushing from self-inflicted wounds.



Book Deals and Agents

You might have seen I just signed a three-book deal with Down & Out Books to publish my three standalone novels. While writing Jay Porter, I would write an additional novel each year. These books, The One That Got Away, Skunk Train, and Occam’s Razor, are among the best things I’ve done. I love the Porter books but it’s been especially frustrating to not have these three books out in the world. Now, thanks to Eric Campbell and Down & Out, these works have a home. For this, I am forever grateful. I’ve long been a fan of what Eric and D&O are doing, and I’ll be back at the same house as my buddy Tom Pitts. What’s not to love?

Getting here, though, has been a bumpy road. I talked about what a shit show 2017 was personally. Professionally it wasn’t much better. I am carefully not to criticize the gatekeeper system of publishing because, despite its shortcomings, I don’t see a better way. Like knocking capitalism: it’s the worst system besides all the others.

I got the Down & Out deal without an agent. I left my agency over the summer, not for anything they weren’t doing–my agent got me five book deals in five years–who can ask for more? I reached a point where I needed to make a change. It’s like a baseball team that is underperforming. It’s not the manager’s fault, but you can’t fire the entire team. Which is why the manager gets the ax. It’s not fair. But it’s the system we have.

Being without an agent is strange. The two happiest days of my publishing life were not when I got book deals or when books came out; it was when I got both my agents. Getting an agent validates you in a different way; it’s an invitation to the party. Landing an agent says you are good enough to be here; you are worthy.

When I left my agency over the summer, I didn’t exactly inundate the market with submissions. I had hoped my name might carry some weight. It didn’t. I was back to square: send a sample chapter and we’ll get back to you. After a handful of rejections, I stopped trying.

Several other factors factored into my giving up. Like my brother dying. We knew my brother was sick for a while, even if consciously I tried to believe he wasn’t. Alcoholism is an awful disease, and looking back at the pictures of Josh, so yellow and grey, I don’t know how I managed to convince myself he’d be okay. The alternative hurt too much I guess.

Suddenly pushing on with my career didn’t seem so important. I didn’t feel like I could sell myself. And that is a huge part of what this industry is. This isn’t, in any way, to disparage agents out there. Agents have a largely thankless job. Very few authors hit big, and fifteen percent of nothing is a whole lot of time spent reading, revising, editing, and submitting your work. If an agent takes you on, they are making a serious personal investment. They don’t want to sign authors who might hit; they want as much as a sure thing as sure things get in this business. They want to believe in you.

I didn’t find any who felt that way about me last year. And it was my fault because I didn’t put myself out there more, send enough submissions, let the process unfold the way it does. I got a few no thank yous and said fuck it; I’ll do it myself.

And I did. And Down & Out is a great fit for these books. But my inability to land an agent, and furthermore my unwillingness to re-enter the marketplace made me realize something. Beyond my stubborness. Agents are looking to (rightfully) be wowed and dazzled by a manuscript, and there is nothing so otherworldly and unique about my work that an agent is going to drop everything and say, “This! I need to have this!” I’m not knocking my work, and I’m not knocking agents. I mean it more as an understanding of what I am and what I do, how work resonates. I have my own style, and it’s not for everyone. But I can write.

I have a nice fanbase and following, readers who like what I do. I am happy with my career. But like anyone I want more. Or maybe not “like anyone.” Like Josh Brolin in that Wallstreet sequel and/or addicts, active or past. A little is never enough, and neither is a little more. More always means … more.

My next book is almost certainly going to be non-fiction, a follow-up to Junkie Love. It will cover my drug years, but focus more on the relationship of brothers, a central theme to just about everything I’ve done. I want to write about my brother Josh and his life and what we did together, the violence we grew up with and that helped shaped us, how one of us escaped the affliction and the other did not; and I want to have that experience transcend, like Junkie Love did. At least to a few people.

As for agents, I’m not submitting my work. This isn’t ego or angst. I get how the gatekeeper system works. I am not suggesting replacing it. But I’m also not sending in a chapter of my work, with my name, to a stranger I find in a database or on a referral, which is tantamount to a blind date. I’d rather control my own fate. Write the most kick-ass book I can, get it out in the world, take my message to the streets. If any agent wants to see what I do, my books are out there, all dozen or so. I write the way I write. That is not changing.

I’m still aiming for the Great American Novel. Until then, I’ll recommit to doing what I do best, which I started in earnest back in 2010 with Junkie Love. My only skill, in fact. I can bang my head against a wall longer than you. Plus, I don’t have a lot of time. My family rarely lives past their fifties.

The Last Jedi

I understand there are a bunch of you out there, all six of you, who don’t like Star Wars. And I know this because every time a new movie comes out, you feel the need to tell everyone on social media how you “Don’t like Star Wars!” And then some of you still go to see the new movie anyway and feel the need to harsh everyone else’s mellow by telling us how you “Didn’t like the new Star Wars!” And while I appreciate counterpoints and discourse, am always open to a good conversation, I’ve sorta grown weary of engaging. So before I start, I just wanted to say, You don’t like Star Wars? Didn’t like The Last Jedi? Good for you. Now fuck off. This post isn’t for you.

For the rest of you still here, the ones with taste and faith: HOW FUCKING COOL WAS THAT? Holy. Shit!

I just came back from seeing The Last Jedi for the third time (this time with my littlest, Jack Jack). I went Opening Night with my oldest (Holden), and then twelve hours later returned to see it again. But it wasn’t until this third viewing that I was finally able to appreciate how brilliant a film this is.

Oh, and before I go on? **SPOILERS!!** I would assume that you’d know that, but I don’t want to ruin the the twists and turns, the reveals and strokes of genius. So I’ll wait till you show yourselves out.

Everyone gone? Okay. Cool.

Star Wars is a religion. It really fucking is. When people ask my faith (happens on the East Coast more than you’d think), I usually describe myself as a Springsteen Catholic (I believe in the love that you gave me, I believe in that faith that can save me). But really I believe in The Force. That’s pretty much all there is anyway, and why these films have meant so much to so many for so long. The Light Side. The Dark Side. In the words of Maz Kanata: “[It is] [t]he only fight. Against the Dark Side. Through the ages I’ve seen evil take many forms. The Sith. The Empire. Today, it is the First Order [Trump]. Their shadow is spreading across the galaxy. We must face them. Fight them. All of us.”

Damn. Life distilled to its essence. Anyway, that was from Force Awakens. Which was also awesome, and, honestly, probably a more “enjoyable” film. By that I mean, I can watch FA pretty much non-stop. It’s popcorn fodder, the Goodfellas of the canon. When it’s on, I can’t turn it off. But The Last Jedi is probably the “better” film.

This is my first blog post in a while, so rather than dissect (spoilers) the first two acts (spoilers), I want to instead focus on the 3rd, specifically … (spoilers) Luke Skywalker.

I waited 30 years for this moment. I’m not kidding. When the Internet was invented and its use became part of my routine, I would routinely put two phrases into the search engine: Pink Floyd reunion with Roger Waters, and … New Star Wars trilogy. It was almost a nervous tic. For years and years, nothing. Then one day? New Star Wars trilogy. But more than just seeing a new film, I was desperate to see Luke in the Obi Wan role. I waited a long fucking time for this.

When I saw The Last Jedi on opening night, I was really bummed that Luke dies (or becomes one with the Force). The projection is cool as fuck, and the shoulder dust-off gold. The “See ya around, kid” equally priceless. But when Luke disappears, leaving on Jedi cloth, it bummed me out. I got a little too much of the feels, because Luke was my childhood. There isn’t a boy (minus the 6) who grew up in the 1970s who didn’t feel an affinity for Luke. Especially those of us in small farm towns who dreamt of the stars.

I’ve read online where some disgruntled nerds didn’t like how Luke went out. To that I’ll only say there is a reason Rian Johnson gets paid millions and you don’t. Dude nailed it. That ending is goddamn epic. All of it. The walking out to “to take on the whole First Order with a laser sword,” the Christ-like sacrifice he makes. Luke can’t return. He’s not the same Luke of the original trilogy. He’s an old man, and, furthermore he’s too powerfulLike his presence in Return of the Jedi jeopardizing the entire mission, Luke’s mere being disrupts the balance. He needs to leave, bow out, pass along what he knows. THAT is our legacy. Passing on what we know, leaving behind the good we’ve acquired, the love we’ve learned. In the words of Yoda: We are what they grow beyond.

It’s hard to rank the films. Nothing will probably ever beat Empire or A New Hope because it launched this religion; it’s hard to put anything ahead of either one. But these last two movies (along with Rogue One) are right up there with Jedi, and probably better than that one and closer to Empire than not. I can’t say I “liked” Last Jedi more than Force Awakens. But l do believe it is the heavier, more important film. And when this franchise is reexamined on down the road, after I, too, am long gone, I’m guessing this will be at the top of many lists.