Checking In During the Hahapocalypse / Mystery Writing Class

m1-copyI know. it’s been a while. But it’s a been a rough stretch. One, we have the election, and despite my desire to not discuss politics, I’m finding it harder and harder not to get sucked into the vortex of Internet comments. Even trains don’t wreck this spectacularly.

m2-copyI wonder if it’s always been like this and I just didn’t see it. We tend to bubble. I bubble. More and more, when I see the crazy racist ALL CAPS in my feed, I stop following. (I have angina and an anxiety condition; it ain’t helping.) I wax and wane, but mostly wane, feeling like I should fight back somehow, lend my authorial voice to the cause. I’m just not sure of the cause. Other than preventing the apocalypse, or to borrow a phrase from my good friend Jason Carlson, the Hahapoalypse, which is very much already upon us. Frankly I am not sure I am going to make it to November with my sanity (or what’s left of it) in tact. Part of me wants to go out in a brilliant blaze. The other part, well, makes me want to shut off the world until it’s over. Which depending on election outcomes might be just a couple months. I guess I can hang on.

*

So I’ve been doing stuff. Just finished a couple novels, including the new Jay Porter, Give Up the Dead, which I think is the best yet. I know an author is supposed to say that with every book. Especially in a series, but I really believe it true this time. The best part of a series (also potentially the most hazardous) is you slip into that skin again so easily. In the case of Jay, an anxious alcoholic suffering PTSD, that can be uncomfortable. But it certainly lends verisimilitude and ethos in the character (thank you, grad school).

 

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14379613_978860382223264_2091712943683065937_oThe other novel I wrapped up, The Girl Who Got Away (I know.  Another “girl” title. It will be changed, which sucks because that really should be the title) was equally draining but for different reasons. But who the fuck wants to hear about the writing process, a topic as wholly unoriginal and uninteresting as politics?

14368769_10154063144622737_5249223622294603932_nBack to Jay. With the series, even as you are wrapping up one book and planning the next (the untitled 4th Jay Porter is out June 2018), you still have to promote the most recent. In this case, December Boys, which has been selling awesome. We’ve hit #1 a couple times over at the Amazon with various promotions. So thank you all for that. But the less sexy part is . . . touring.

It is well known there are two things I hate to do: put on pants, and leave the house. And going on a book tour, unfortunately, involves both.

This time I was away from my wife and kids for 10 days, and I know that doesn’t sound like some crazy amount of time. But add in the having to wear pants, and it was hell. It’s funny. Mornings like today, where I wake up and am bombarded with whining, shit in all its various forms (cat, dog, dirty diaper)–both boys are getting over colds–my back hurts, grumble, grumble–I would kill for a moment of silence. Then the silence comes, and a moment later I miss the chaos. It ain’t not sin to be glad you’ve alive. Or admit you need your family.

14369885_10154050024217737_3892815586397023349_nThe you started in Boston and a Noir at the Bar (put together by Chris Irivn), highlighted by my best TV appearance yet, and culminating with a reading at my hometown library in CT before me and my tattoos jetted down to New Orleans for the always-awesome Bouchercon. I won’t list and link the name of every supporter, friend and fan, who came out, because I just did that in the Acknowledgments section for Give Up the Dead (my publisher said the Acknowledgments were so long this time they have to go in the back of the book!), but I love all these people, the BHS Class of 1988, and this mystery-writing community. But fucking tours are fucking draining, and by the end I was coasting on fumes, analyzing every interaction, reflecting on social graces like a never-ending hall of mirrors casting me in a light most unflattering.

The Motley BHS Class of '88
The Motley BHS Class of ’88

Anyway, that’s where I’ve been. And up next: editing and teaching. The first involves the new Johnny Cash anthology I am helming for Gutter, Just to Watch Him Die, as well as a co-editing gig with David James Keaton, Hard Sentences, an Alcatraz-based anthology coming out with Broken River. The second, and sorta the point of this post, I will again be teaching a mystery-writing course over at LitReactor.

Writing, editing, and teaching are, at least for me, a three-headed monster (a delightful, delightful monster). I can’t do one well without working at the others. Given the demands of life (and desire not to wear pants), online course work out great for me. I am way more impressive digitally. Online I don’t panic or fret about fucking up an introduction to a writer I deeply respect. I can edit my thoughts and words. I am sure many writers, anti-social by nature, feel the same way. This format allows me to put my best foot forward. The last class was a blast, as evidenced my several students signing up this time around. There are still a few slots left (I think). The class starts next Tuesday, October 4th. If you’ve want to learn how to write a mystery, we go into great detail, not only about plotting and process, but also how to get agents and editors to look at your work. And compared to most courses, it’s pretty damn affordable. LitReactor is one of the best tools for writers out there. Wonderful community and resource. Hope to e-see you there!

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Release Day & Book Deals & News

December Boys high-res copyI am always wary of plastering social media with too much stuff.

I have A LOT of stuff to plaster. So I figure I’ll plaster it all in one jam-packed, chock-ful blog post.

First, today is RELEASE DAY!

Though December Boys was made available early by the fine folks over at Amazon (it all counts toward the week 1 push for bestseller lists), today, June 7, is the actual release day. Though I’d love for y’all to buy the pretty hardcover edition, the e-book is for a very limited time just .99. The reason my publisher and Amazon did this is simple: the more first week sales, the better my chances of making that coveted bestseller list. So please, buy, share, tell your mom about it (if she is, y’know, cool and hip and likes her mysteries like I like my chocolate, semi-dark and bittersweet. That’s not true I like milk chocolate. Fuck dark chocolate. Dark chocolate tastes like a broken promise).

13246122_503936559803455_940881873_nSpeaking of deals … The fine folks over at Amazon have also made Book One in the Jay Porter Thriller series, Lamentation, a Kindle Monthly Deal, meaning for the rest of June that book too will be just … .99.

And sorta burying the lead on this one … but Oceanview is buying TWO MORE JAY PORTER NOVELS. Which for those of you keeping score at home brings us up to FIVE books in the series. Meaning you can expect a new novel a year until 2019 (holy fuck am I old).

And last I will be launching December Boys with a few readings in the Bay Area in the next couple weeks, starting with Why There Are Words this Thursday, June 9, followed the next night with an In Conversation with David Corbett (Friday, June 10), and capped off a week after that with the formal launch at Pegasus Books (Friday, June 17), where one lucky winner will win a chance to poke Rob Pierce with a stick.

13227871_503866013143843_24893243_nI think that’s it. For now. I’ll be doing a tour of the East Coast, culminating with a trip to New Orleans in September. And there’s the Beast Crawl and Litquake and regular Lip Service West stuff. Also I’m wrapping up Mike Creeden’s All Your Lies Came True for Gutter, and hoping to start tackling the long-alluded to Cash anthology.

And now here is Micah Schanbel of Two Cow Garage singing “Jackson, Don’t You Worry,” the title track from December Boys. Every book of mine gets a soundtrack, and Micah’s song provided a particularly poignant one this time. (And he graciously allowed us to reprint the lyrics.)

 

LitReactor Class/Lamentation Paperback

joe_banner_dates13007264_1075996875805631_7386897451547778943_nBeen a pretty crazy stretch. Seems like all I have done lately is write. Which is what I am supposed to be doing, I know, but I’ve written two novels since November, and this feels like probably the busiest I’ve ever been. Whenever people would say “There aren’t enough hours in a day,” I always sorta wanted to punch them. I get what they mean now. I used to feel like Will in About a Boy, trying to kill days as fast as possible. Now I wish I could slow down time to get more done before resuming suburban dad duties every evening.

*

Couple bits of housekeeping. Before I dive back into the next round of edits, I’ll be teaching this class over at LitReactor starting Tuesday. Writing/editing/teaching is a wonderful three-headed-monster. I learn as much from editing and teaching as I do reading/writing. Which is hardly a revelation. These things feed off one another. Like my elliptical machine–self powered. (Sorry this isn’t a more entertaining blog. I’ll be sure to throw in an uplifting meme somewhere.)

10799702_306820702848376_1014875482_nAnyway, class starts Tuesday; there’s still space. I’m looking forward to talking shop with other writers trying to crack the code, or just get better. Writing is like golf: it’s not about spiritual perfection; it’s about spiritual progress. Or maybe that’s AA. I get those two confused. Last class I taught was at the SF Writers’ Grotto, which was a blast, and I certainly got as much as I gave. I have no doubt I’ll end up in academia. I’ve spent half my life in school, and I feed off that environment of improvement. This class will be entirely online, which is, frankly, better for me. I express myself better digitally than I do in person. I am sure I am not the only writer who feels that way. Just far less anxious behind a keyboard than trying to figure out what to do with my hands. And, y’know, no Bridge traffic.

Also Lamentation is finally out in paperback. Which means we sold out our initial hardcover run (I think). Yay! I mean, you don’t get a paperback unless the hardcover does well. So I guess it did well. Thanks to everyone who bought it. If you held out this long hoping for a physical  copy less … heavy … here you go! (Seriously, mailing hardcovers is nuts. Shipping costs almost as much as a paperback.)

Hope to see some of you in the e-ther on Tuesday.

And now your uplifting meme …

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2016: Ten Years Later

walkerOn New Year’s Day, I realized it had been ten years since my near-fatal motorcycle accident. I threw up an old post talking about that other life-changing event (the first being my near-fatal drug addiction. Though, granted, that one crept at a slower pace). I was surprised how many people read that post, especially since, like I said, it was old. But it got about 10x the hits I usually do, even when I write something new. Of course nothing sells like death and consumption (though not necessarily in that order).

Everyone loves a good “coming back from the dead” story. How else do you explain six thousand shows about zombies and vampires?

BmFw8J4IIAAGbqk.jpg-mediumChrist, 2006 sucked. In a life defined by bad news, underachievment, and breaking your mother’s heart, I kicked off the year by seriously underwhelming even by my own lackluster standards. I’d gotten divorced, blown five years of sobriety, and was close to pissing away my last ticket out: grad school. Sticking to my clichéd script (albeit a few years too soon), I chose to end this disastrous year by getting a motorcycle. In Miami. The city with the absolute worst drivers in America.

By the end of the year, it looked like I’d put my shit back together. I was on the straight and narrow, almost done with my thesis draft, and then … the crash.

Waking up unable to walk is a lousy way to start any New Year. Although, in all fairness, I’d woken up plenty of times in the previous decade highly immobilized. But this was worse. Despite the “freelapse” (a word I just learned from Josh Mohr’s forthcoming biography) and a steady stream of morphine (my “favorite” part of the crash was after the paramedics found me spitting up blood, I managed to mumble, “Can’t … have … morphine … I’m … a … recovering … addict,” and the paramedic took one look at me as he loaded up the shot and said, “Oh, you’re getting morphine”), I was in agonizing pain.

That older blog post details the recovery from the accident, which saw 2007 kick off in bed, then a wheelchair, walker, crutches, cane, until I was finally walking again without assistance seven months later.* If you want to read about the gruesome parts (with pictures!), just hit that link. The quick version is I almost died, and it sucked. But I got better.

(* I’ve returned to using a cane over the last couple years, but only when I know I am going to be on my feet all day long. Like Disneyland or Bouchercon.)

psycho-the-rapist-its-one-word-george-psychotherapistDuring my weekly sessions with Dr. Goldberg, we frequently address my … reluctance … to accept the good. I prefer to focus on the negative. Just how I’m drawn up. I see the bad much more easily than I do the good, or to quote Mike TV, I’m the sort of guy who can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Just like fiction can’t exist without conflict, why the fuck else would I need a psychiatrist?

Likewise, I tend not to recognize all the adversity I’ve overcome. Mostly because I was the dumbass who put himself there in the first place. Overcoming a drug addiction is cool, I guess. Sort of. Except that, yeah, I probably shouldn’t have been taking drugs. Where’s the glory crawling out of the hole you dug? The crash is a little different. A lot of people ride bikes, and they are dangerous. It’s not a question of “if” (re: crashing) but “when” and “how bad?”

1339311729431_6857957When I met my lovely wife, Justine, she asked why I had so many women’s names tattooed on my body. “There’s a certain kind of guy who gets a woman’s name tattooed on his body,” I said. “I’m that kind of guy.” My answer seemed to suffice. It’s less about trouble seeming to find me, and more that I drove to trouble’s house and taunted it by throwing rocks at its doors and pissing on its lawn.

But maybe I am doing it again, not accepting the good, the blessings that have been granted to me, unconditionally. Regardless of what I did to land in some pretty bad situations, I still got out of them (right?), if only by learning how to step aside, stop fighting so goddamn much, just let the good things happen. The Universe/God had been doing me a solid for a while now. And I certainly have an awful lot of good things to be happy about as 2016 kicks off. My health, (most of) my hair, the books, 13% body fat, and these guys below. They are the best part about surviving that accident. I got to see this happen. I got to meet this amazing woman. I get to see my boys grow up, and, I hope, live long enough to see them become men. Taking those two boys to see the new Star Wars (for the 3rd time!) this weekend, watching their eyes light up like mine did in ’77, was pretty fucking amazing. Life is a pretty sweet fruit.

Happy New Year from the Cliffords!

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Better Than the Beatles

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I recently discovered Frank Turner, an English singer/songwriter from, well, England. How this artist has alluded me, given my constant search for new, life-affirming music, mystifies. Then again, not really. My ability to compartmentalize is legendary, if only in my kitchen, where I spend 99% of my time (Brian Fast once said: no matter how I treat my guests, they always like my kitchen best).

10348204_680049412099995_5254871434238716560_nAnytime you discover a great new artist, you push it down the throats of tell your friends because you want them to feel good too. One of these friends is a guy named Petersen who lives on the East Coast. A surrogate father, Petersen grew up in the ’60s, which as everyone from that generation knows boasts the best music, the best movies, and best athletes of all time. And if you’d don’t believe me, all you have to do is ask; they won’t shut up about it.

Whatever era you came of age, nostalgia always holds a special place in your heart, but it’s tough to argue with the music one. I mean, all anyone has to say is the Beatles.

I know people who claim to dislike the Beatles (I don’t believe them), but only an idiot will deny the band’s place in the pantheon on rock. Some purists/contrarians will go back to Robert Johnson or even earlier, talk about purer blues, and I won’t argue. I mean, I don’t give a shit. The Beatles were the first band to put it together in the modern pop culture vein. But that doesn’t make them “the best.”

My buddy Petersen, like a lot of … older … people frequently complains about how “there is no good new music.” The rub being when you try to introduce good new music to someone who lived in the ’60s, you are up against not only the Beatles, but the Stones and the Who and Dylan and the list goes on. No matter how good an artist is, you can’t beat the Beatles.

12241272_932149966839988_8204072385303865074_nExcept you can. Now I love the Beatles. Or rather I appreciate their place in the lineage of rock and roll. Like I said, only a moron would deny that. But does that make them the best? Because there are bands I like a fucklot more: Springsteen, Gaslight Anthem, Hold Steady, and, now, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. I mean, literature has deigned Don Quixote the first novel. Don Quixote isn’t close to being the best. In fact, it’s rather unreadable. Author Miguel de Cervantes did as well as he could given that he was fucking inventing a new form. But art dictates evolution. How sad would it be if music never got better than the Beatles?

12304300_875686839212943_4952939902542458265_oThis all started when I told Petersen “Frank Turner is a better songwriter than the Beatles.” Petersen treated the comment as though I’d just took a dump in church. Which made me almost retract. Then I thought about Cervantes. Fuck, there are hundreds of songwriters better than the Beatles. And the Stones. And Dylan. Every time Rolling Stone comes out with a list of the best songwriters, you know damn well it’ll have Paul and John, and Mick and Keith. You’ll get a nod to current trends with a rapper or two, Tupac or whoever. But mostly that list will revolve around ’60’s icons, despite there being literally thousands of artists coming after–artists who took an original statement and then used it to create something better. How–or rather why–would anyone expect the dialogue to retard? How many times do you need to hear fucking Hotel California?

enhanced-16976-1439320460-1I’m not immune. In my world Springsteen and Westerberg reign. Because I came of age to their music. I had a girlfriend, or maybe a wife, who loved Pearl Jam. Personally I’d rather get Chekhoved by Kahn than listen to Eddie Vedder sing, which sounds like a very short man taking a shit with a mouthful of peanut butter. I like Frank Turner because he sounds like the music I already like. But as good as I think he is, I’d never think the dialogue ends here. The best music is yet to come. I’ll just be too old and/or dead to appreciate it.

 

In My Tribe: Bouchercon Raleigh Recap 2015

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My “big brother” Mike and me before the Anthonys.

As a writer, you don’t get much opportunity for social interaction. Rather you do your best to avoid it. You eventually have to leave the house of course. Grocery shopping. Doctor’s appointments. Dinner parties. But it’s never easy. At least not for me. Talking to normals has always felt taxing. Which is hardly a reflection on mankind and more a commentary on the faulty wiring in my brain. At this point, my neurosis has become a tic, a slight limp, the stutter that is a permanent part of my personality, neither ingrained nor hidden; it’s simply who I am.

I was talking to Josh Stallings in the bookroom at Bouchercon, both of us frittering awkward, acknowledging how foreign group activities are to persons of our ilk.

“And this crowd,” Josh said, “these are our peopleThis is as good as it gets for guys like us.”

12072732_10205101217588968_1643014766645619647_nPutting a bunch of writers in a room together is, to quote the politically incorrect line from Dodgeball, “like watching a bunch of retards trying to fuck a doorknob.” It’s antithetical to what we do. Social interactions are never easy for us, but Josh is right: Bouchercon is as good as it gets. It is, to use a catchphrase, our tribe.

There are a number of hokey sounding cliches, and few as cloying or cheesy or downright hippy-dippy-sounding as “find your tribe.” But besides being the name of one of my favorite ’80s college records, the other writers who go to Bouchercon every year are, for lack of a better term, my tribe.

07dd7bf6a0ade3064c26f6c3e4c9e41fIt’s why I look forward to the conference so much every year, despite knowing how much it will exhaust me. The trip isn’t cheap. It often involves a long flight. Add in the hotel and cab rides and meals (which this year included the fabulous Chuck’s, which had some of the tastiest burgers and shakes I’ve ever devoured), and, well, it’s not cheap. But it’s worth every cent.

I had been nominated for two Anthony Awards this year. I lost both. Considering the competition–Hank Phillippi Ryan, Louise Penny, Tana French, and Laura Lippman, who took home the coveted award for Best Novel, it was remarkable to have Lamentation (and Trouble in the Heartland by little-known German publisher “Güter Books”) mentioned alongside such literary heavyweights. My nomination was the first time an Oceanview author had been up for that particular award. But as is so often in this life, defeat has its perks too.

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But on the inside, I am a terrified, trembling baby lamb…

Everyone wants to win, and even if it’s is “just an honor to be nominated,” wanting to win is human nature, and coming up short, regardless of the length of odds, will always hurt. After the Awards were over, I was disappointed. Not devastated. Just, well, it sucks. I also knew all my friends were going to offer condolences. Which made me want to disappear for a while. Sometimes it’s easier to take the insults and cruelty than it is the kindness. But they all offered, and we joked and laughed–I got a few emails and texts–and by the end of the night the sting was pretty dull.

12079609_10153545671175709_3767617357352207260_nI woke up the next morning feeling … grateful. It’s going to sound crazy. But the last time I felt like I had friends like this was when I was a junkie. For all their faults, drugs addicts are a tight-knit community, a group of misfits, bound together by defect and long-shot dreams. For all intents and purposes, that defines writers too (many of whom, not so coincidentally, are former addicts and alcoholics, at least in the crime community). My point is, I feel like I have friends again. Some are carry-overs like Tom Pitts, and my buddy from grad school, B-Con neophyte Mike Creeden. Most of these people voted for my books, and really cared about the outcome and my feelings after the vote. Several I’d first met online, and we’d had long, in-depth conversations electronically before ever meeting face-to-face. And now these friendships mean the world.

UnknownSo to Tom, Todd, Mike & Mike, Brian, the Rob(s), Ro, Danny, Michelle, Tommy, Terrence, Richard, The Pluckster, Chris, The Shotgun Honey Crew, Warren, Marietta, Les, Kate, Angel, Rebecca, Christa, Ed, Soledad, Jed, Jen, Jack, Johnny, Jay, Josh, Hilary, Travis, Steve, Seth, Matt, Pam, James, all the variations of Er(y)(i)(c)(k), and everyone else I may’ve missed: thank you. Sitting at the Anthony Awards, having my publishers from Oceanview sitting next to me, surrounded by all you guys supporting me, well, it was touching.

This has already been a pretty fucking sentimental post, so I might as well go all the way. You get much further in this life I believe by lifting one another up than trying to push someone else down. I’ll stop short of saying I love you all, which would probably only invite more people trying to touch me. I’ll just say I look forward to seeing you all next year. Some more of “our tribe” will be nominated. And this time, we’re taking home the gold. (Or at least some decorative dinnerware, as is the case.)

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My tribe…

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Untitled copy

A Search for Common Ground

12107217_10153787348414369_2670603592495987593_nYou might’ve heard there was another mass shooting this past week. That’s 294 this year, and closing in on 1,000 in the last three. Now, in terms of ways I want to spend a Monday morning, debating the 2nd Amendment falls somewhere between reading Jane Austen again and getting tested for the clap (again). Couple weeks ago, I wrote, what I thought was, a fairly benign, lighthearted post about Tom Brady’s support of Donald Trump. I still managed to upset a couple friends of mine who reminded me of a promise I made: no politics on this blog. So what I’d like to try to do here today is talk about a very touchy, incendiary topic, with wildly vacillating points of views and impassioned perspectives, and come up with common ground, however shaky. I want to write Hemingway’s one, true sentence re: guns in this country. So here goes:

We have a problem.

GunGraph copy 2Can we at least all agree on that? Is that even debatable? Not proposing background checks, more mandatory this or that, stricter regulations, whatever; I am not infusing this post with my own ideological beliefs. I’m not mentioning presidential candidates or legislation, just making a simple statement that there’s got to be a better way. Is there anyone who views 1,000 mass shootings in a three-year span as acceptable?

mass_shooting_map.0Now the tricky part is how to fix it, I know that, and I want no fucking part of it. At least not here, not now. Call me a coward or a pacifist, or just a dude who at 45 is way too busy to spend his day fighting with no hopes of resolution. I have good friends who love their guns. I have good friends who would love to see them outlawed. You guys want to talk, I’d be happy to put you in touch. Although if you are looking for a little discourse on the subject, you don’t have to look far.

I spend a lot of time on social media. I work (my paying job) online and so often I’ll have two laptops open. Soon as a mass shooting occurs, I watch the lines light up. And I tip-toe away from the inferno. It’s not that I don’t care–I care deeply–it simply gets exhausting watching the two camps splinter and say the same damn things. Nothing gets solved. And then there is another shooting pretty much the next day. Or later that same day. That isn’t hyperbole. 290+ mass shootings in 270+ days. Do the math.

mass_shootings_calendar.0So I wondered if I wrote a post, could I come up with a single sentence that wouldn’t offend anyone, the most base of assertions to achieve consensus. One as simple as 1,000 mass shootings in 3 years is too many. Again: Not advocating for stricter laws. Not championing arming every man, woman and child in a school. I take no position on here (right now) other than to say this: what we are doing isn’t working.

That statement has proven pretty instrumental in my life. Back when I was a junkie, it helped me get clean. When I found that proverbial bottom, lying, quite literally, in the gutter, without shoes and covered in sores, I said to myself, “Joe”–because I often talked to myself in the 3rd person in those days (Joe doesn’t do that anymore; he finds it hubristic)–“we don’t know what’s down that road over there, that road without drugs, where emotions run wild and feelings hurt, but one thing is for sure: what we are doing sure as fuck isn’t working.”

gun homicides per capitaAnd so I’ll evoke it once more, and that’s as far as I am getting into it. Everyone has a finger to point and something(one) to blame. I have opinions too. Talking about them would get me nowhere. Gun control is like abortion twenty years ago, a hotbed topic; bring it up, veins pop and people get fired up. I have a real problem with my temper. Or I used to. I learned to control my temper, mostly by not challenging it. Like Bruce Banner not riding the subway at rush hour. Not a good idea. People, places, and circumstances, all things to avoid. I just know something’s gotta give; something has to change. Because what we are doing sure as fuck ain’t working. And if at least we can all agree there is a problem, then maybe, just maybe, that means there’s a solution, too.

Jerry Stahl & 20 Years of Permanent Midnight

men_are_from_mars_151475Tom Pitts used to say, “Reading options suck when the gutter is your library.” They don’t let junkies into the actual library, because junkies immediately head to the bathroom, clog up the toilet, and get blood everywhere. The SF libraries have timers on the lock (and good luck hitting a tiny capillary in five minutes with that dim light). I once read Men Are from Mars; Women Are from Venus simply because I found that crap lying on the street. Oh, who am I kidding? I fucking loved that book (and it would go on to serve as the basis for my myriad marriages and subsequent divorces). Junkies collect stray books like broken men and regrets. You have nothing but time to kill and a life to waste. You see homeless selling these books for a buck on scabies-infested blankets next to broken toasters and one shoe, but that is wishful thinking. Because you can find books for free everywhere when you’re a bum. Just can’t be too selective. You read what you find. Can’t say I’d ever pick up The Unauthorized Biography of Art Garfunkel otherwise. There are, of course, divine exceptions.

Comic-3One day I found Jerry Stahl’s Permanent Midnight lying in the gutter. I’d probably been walking to Gluehead’s shack, a trek I made most every day to grovel for speed. Or maybe I was coming back from Martin De Porres, the soup kitchen on 16th @ Potrero, which cooked up the best oatmeal. I don’t know where I found the book, exactly, only that I did, and that I read it, straight through, riveted. Midnight fast became a favorite, like Catcher in the Rye or On the Road; like it was written just for me. The day the movie version came out, I borrowed my dead friend Troy’s car to take my crazy wife on a date down in Colma. Cost me half a gram. Best balloon I ever spent.

when i rocked
No, that’s all of me…

I just did an interview with the Last Bookstore, which will be hosting my upcoming reading with Jerry and Ryan Leone (Wasting Talent). Like I told them, I know this will sound hyperbolic: but Jerry Stahl saved my life. At least his book did. Or maybe not. Maybe I would’ve eventually stopped shooting junk all on my own, got off the street, gone on to earn my degrees, get married, have kids, publish a bunch of books, and buy a big house in the suburban hills regardless. I have no way of knowing. But the day I found Permanent Midnight, I was eating out of dumpsters and selling my blood (the UFO Study would give you $20 to test for diseases), I was at least 50 pounds lighter than I am now, my face was covered in pancake makeup to hide the sores and oozing pus, and I was dying. Permanent Midnight showed me there was another way for guys like us. Full of self-loathing and black, gallows humor, the story told of a deranged and damaged man who found the better parts of himself through words. Jerry Stahl offered me something in short supply in those days: hope.

And here it is, almost 20 years later. On Thursday, I get to read with one of my literary heroes, Jerry Stahl. I’ve written a lot of fiction since I picked my ass up off the street, but I could’ve have written a better script. No one would believe it.

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Back to School

I took the last few weeks off from blogging (sorry for the hole I left in your lives). I did this for a few reasons. 1.) the hits tend to wane in the summer, and 2. it’s a lot of fucking work to come up with new, relevant, titillating topics every week, and 3.) I’m lazy.

There are a handful of tricks to writing blogs and getting the most bang for your buck. You want to touch upon current pop culture topics without being divisive. You want hyperlinks. And most importantly…

Short blocks of text.

And pictures.

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In my absence, we had several developments on the professional front, some shit that is coming up soon. Mostly good news. A little light on mortality. Let’s start with positivity.

  • We sold Book Three in the Lamentation series. Very cool, since the sequel, December Boys, isn’t even out yet (I just finished writing it!). DB is slated for a June 2016 release. The new, as-yet-untitled 3rd in the series, a year after that. I have the plot and arc. Looks like I’m locked into a series with Oceanview. Which is the start of a bonafide career as a writer. Life is some trippy shit.
  • Speaking of December Boys. Had a conference call with Oceanview the other day, and experienced a first. Or maybe its evolution of craft. Whenever I’m teaching a class or speaking on a panel, I usually say, something to the effect, “the one thing we want as writers is to write our book, hand it to someone and have them say, ‘It’s perfect. Don’t change a thing.’ And the one thing that will never happen is you write a book, hand it to someone, and they say, ‘It’s perfect. Don’t change a thing.'” And that didn’t happen here. Because before it got to Oceanview, I had several readers, including Tom and my wife, pointing out major structural issues, which I addressed. But once OP got it, they seemed pretty damned happy with the final product, editorial suggestions strictly the line-item variety.

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  • Perhaps the best news, or at least my favorite, I can’t really share (#vaguebooking). All I can say is that I asked a writer who has written one of my favorite all-time books for a blurb (I’m talking a writer I love, love, love), and he/she wrote back and said to send it. And I know that doesn’t sound like much. But, man, I really love this writer, and if this blurb comes through it truly will be a career highlight. (I feel as flush as a schoolgirl on prom night.)
  • C6cLf2eLest I leave you with the impression that it’s been all great. We just got back from Disneyland, which was great. But four days on my feet, even with a cane, I came closer than ever to needing to rent one of those scooters like some fat American tourist. I don’t think I’ve experienced more physical pain in my life. That is not hyperbole. Hurt more than the damn motorcycle accident itself. I slapped on Lidoderm patches, took as much medication as I am allowed, and I could still barely walk. At one point over the course of our trip, my spine went numb, which can’t be a good thing. Even though it was nice not to be in agony. I saw my doctor when I got back. She reminded me the reality of my condition, reiterating that a hip replacement is not if but when. She said something like “You have to accept you’ll never throw your sons in the air.” And even though doctors have been telling me this stuff since the accident, I never really believed them. I figured I could just will myself to health. These last could weeks (after I fucked up my back trying to climb onto Holden’s LEGO loft to play with him), I’m forced to admit the obvious: my body is failing me. And nothing I do will fix it. There are just ways to treat the pain and slow down the inevitable. But, fuck, ain’t that what we’re all doing anyway? Life is a terminal condition.

And on that cheery note…

Father’s Day 2015: Cat’s in the Cradle

The oft-mentioned original draft of Junkie Love with the tiny monkeys. Yes, Virginia, it exists...
The oft-mentioned original Junkie Love with the tiny monkeys. Yes, Virginia, it exists…

When I went back East on that Lamentation book tour, I gave a talk/reading in New London (I think it was New London. Or one of those other coastal towns near a naval base). A guy I knew in college, Steve, runs a reading series/book group down there and had asked me to come by and do my thing. The night was a blast. Great crowd and questions. The whole tour was like that. (Seriously, Connecticut makes me feel like a rock star.) Steve had known me at Central CT State University, back when I was first starting out. By “starting out,” I mean just getting off the street following a decade of shooting heroin into my neck. I was all over the place, waxing about global conspiracies, the inherent dishonesty of a recommended 8 hours of sleep, the residual of hyped-up, meth-fueled “the Man is out to get you” horseshit (“8 hours, man, is a lie. A complete REM cycle is 3 hours. 3, 6, 9. See? 8 hours is specifically designed to make you groggy, all out of it, easier to control, man”). My point: I was a little … edgier.

Now some good stuff comes with being edgier. You don’t care about practical elements re: a profession. Like sales or sustainability. You aren’t a “sell out.” I don’t consider myself a “sell out,” but I do consider myself an adult now (sort of). I also consider myself a professional writer (most of the time), and with that comes playing by some rules, as we talked about last week. Anyway, at that reading in New London/CT Naval Town, Steve asked, jokingly, since I am now a suburban dad, if I plan on writing one of those awful suburban dad kid books, like Marley and Me, some Chicken Soup for the Father Soul crap.

10421258_10205940787790482_1491442027914041222_nObviously I am not writing Eat Pray Love any time soon, but, yeah, being a dad does change some perspectives. A part of you knows this is it; the old you is being phased out so this new, better you can begin the journey. Circle of Life, shit, yo.

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A couple weeks ago, I took my son out to dinner at my new favorite restaurant, El Mono. It’s a Peruvian joint. Basically meat and potatoes. But spicier. Which I grew up on. Not the flavor so much as the meat, which, of course, I never ate. I remember the old man bringing home a whole box of filet mignon, how proud he was. I ate spaghetti with butter. I was a terrible eater. These days, I’d feel fortunate if my four-year-old ate spaghetti with butter. Every meal is a fight with that boy, whose diet is basically bread (toasted with brown and black crusts), cream cheese, butter, with the occasional piece of fruit. And I was thinking, as we walked out of the restaurant following another fruitless attempt to get some protein into the child, how much his resilience and steadfast resolve reminds me of me, the king of cutting off noses.

Which is both the enthralling and really, really disturbing part about being a father, how much your kids resemble you, physically and in terms of other stuff like hardheadedness. I have two boys now. More than anything, I want to not fuck them up. The pressure to “get it right” overwhelms at times. Reminds me of the Philip Larkin poem, which I’ve quoted often on here.

This Be the Verse
By Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad,
     They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the extra faults they had
     And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
     By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were sloppy-stern

     And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
     It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
     And don’t have any kids yourself.

confusedkidsYesterday was Father’s Day. At four months Jackson is still basically in the slug stage. I mean, he can smile and is beginning to appreciate complex human interactions like “Peek-a-boo.” He’s cute as hell and I could sit and make silly faces at him all day. But as a baby, he doesn’t know what planet he’s on. Jackson is really easy to love because he’s my child and the only challenge is maybe when he cries (which isn’t often). Holden is four and a half, and our relationship is … far more complex. I can get a glimpse into the future teenage years, when head-butting between fathers and sons becomes an art form.

Of course I expect to do better than my dad (be hard to do much worse). I hope my boys always love me like they do now. But that’s not really the important part of being a father, is it? I mean, who doesn’t want to be the “cool dad?” My job, however, is not to be liked. I am not here to make friends. I want them to like me. But I have to prepare these kids for the world. And it ain’t easy.

10442382_854659782926_7583221484326952817_nThe mixed messages part of being a parents trips me out. Do as I say, ignore my fuck-ups. Someday I will have to explain Junkie Love, and why my kids shouldn’t do drugs (“worked out all right for you, Dad!”). I guess still have some time to figure out how to navigate that one. For now I get to appreciate how blessed I am to be a dad, something I never would’ve thought I could love this much. Not to get all Chicken Soup Soul on you or anything, but it’s pretty fucking cool when your kid quotes the Mountain Goats in a Father’s Day card.