I reviewed JD Mader’s Joe Cafe here not so long ago. It really is a brilliant Noir read. The novel centres on the kidnapping of lap dancer Sara by psychotic killer Chet Mooney and is compellingly told from the opening line until the finish. JD Mader has a band called The Flying Black Hats. His next novel The Biker is due out shortly. He met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about addiction and the economy.
How does your music relate to your writing?
When I was young, I wrote stories. It wasn’t something I took all that seriously. I started writing professionally when I was fourteen, covering sports for the local paper. I also wrote feature articles and eventually convinced them to give me a weekly column. I’m still surprised this happened. About this same time, I started playing punk rock. I was in a band with my best friends and we were not very good musicians. I did, it turned out, have a talent for writing lyrics. I was a bit of an angsty teenager, and I wrote lyrics constantly, purging my anger and frustration onto the page. My best friend, Pat, usually wrote the music, I wrote the words and played guitar. That was our arrangement then…it is still the basic arrangement now at age 33, although I write some music now, too. Our musical tastes have changed a bit, and we live in different cities, so the amount of music we write has diminished. I digress (god, how I hate that phrase).
I did not like school. I enjoyed reading and writing. I made good grades in English class. I made life difficult for my teachers. Most of the time, I sat in the back of the classroom and wrote lyrics. I would write up to five “songs” a day and then give the wrinkled notebook pages and scraps of paper to Pat. Many of them disappeared. Some made it into actual songs. We played local clubs and recorded. We never made much money. We had a lot of fun. In the years since, Pat and I have written songs for pleasure and to share with friends. We are both pretty introverted people, so playing live was always an issue (generally with a solution that involved whiskey or malt liquor). At any rate, music (and the writing of music) is very important to me, but it is something I do mainly for myself. And for Pat. And I write silly songs for my daughter. We have put up a lot of songs on Bandcamp and Last.fm (for free, of course) and have developed a kind of bizarre following of people we do not know from around the globe. We go by the name ‘The Flying Black Hats’. Ah, the wonders of the internet.
Now, to answer your question. I consider fiction to be my ‘writing’ writing, and I didn’t really start to take it seriously until my early twenties. I write non-fiction sometimes. I write music. But I don’t take any of it as seriously as I take fiction writing. You would think that there would be some connection to writing music and writing fiction, but they come from very different places for me. I spend a lot of time on my fiction. When I write lyrics, I write them quickly…stream of consciousness style, generally…and I can’t think of an instance when I have ever ‘edited’ a song. I probably have, but it is not the norm. I either get an idea for a song and write it down, decide I want to write a song and puke out some lyrics, or sit down with Pat and he tells me what he wants me to write about and I do it…it usually takes about five minutes. It is a fast and relatively thoughtless process…quite different than my fiction, which I edit and sculpt until I think it is as close to perfect as I can make it. About the only connection I can think of is that I do pay a lot of mind to the rhythm and flow (poeticism, I guess one could say presumptuously) of my fiction.
I think that writing music is a release for me. Writing fiction is too, but it is a different kind of release. The only apt analogy I can think of is the difference between making a grilled cheese sandwich and making Thanksgiving dinner I like them both quite a bit, but making a grilled cheese is quick and easy. If it is a little over or under cooked, well, so be it. But if I am going to make a meal, then I want it to be perfect. I want the flavors to dance on the tongue. I want the meat cooked perfectly. I want the people eating it to savor every mouthful and I want it to stick with them. I want it to be the best representation of what I am capable of producing. I want exactly the right amount of spices. I want them to eat until they are about to burst.
from the old punk rock days:
Tell us about Joe Cafe.
I am, primarily, a writer of short stories. ‘Joe Café’ is the second of three novels that I have written. It has been described in many ways. Crime Noir seems to be the general assessment. The first novel I wrote, ‘The Clear’, was kind of a learning process. With ‘Joe Café’ I wanted to try an experiment. I have long believed that my characters do most of the writing, i.e., if they are good, true, fully developed characters, they begin to act the way they should, and that moves the plot. So, I decided to give myself a starting point. A situation. A happening. There is a robbery and brutal murder in a small town diner. That was it. I needed a cop and I needed a bad guy, and they showed up. I needed subplots and secondary characters and a backstory and they presented themselves.
It is impossible to give free reign to your imagination (at least it is for me). As much as I wanted to not think past the next word, I did. The interesting thing was that I saw it unfolding in kind of a boring cliched way, and it annoyed me. The protagonist, Michael,
started to get on my nerves. The antagonist, Chet, starting seeming like a much more interesting, empathetic character than I had given him credit for. And the victim (one of them…the one who lived), Sarah, started becoming much more important.
I wrote ‘Joe Café’ at an interesting point in my life. I’m not sure I could write the same book today. I quickly became interested in the idea of good and evil and the way fate plays a hand in which one you turn out to be…or where you fall on the spectrum since there are no absolutes. I have worked as a teacher for many years, and most of those years I worked with kids from the slums of San Francisco. I was always fascinated at the way these kids were influenced by their surroundings and their home lives. Most of the kids I worked with were great people. They worked hard and struggled to escape the hand they were dealt. One of the smartest kids I ever worked with – a truly brilliant young man and a fabulous writer – went to jail for possession of crack. Last I heard, he was unemployed with kids and living with his mother. It would not surprise me at all if he is back in jail. He was too smart to buy into a system that seemed set up to defeat him. He was his own worst enemy.
I have always found it ironic that Americans are so depressingly naive about the social politics and harsh realities many of our neighbors face. I was raised in a lower middle class family. When I was young, I had a bad attitude and some bad habits. I had some run-ins with the police. I had some close calls. And there is no doubt that I got out of a lot of jams because I was a white kid who lived in a stable family. It is not fair. I talked to my students about it many times. There is not a doubt in my mind that I would have served jail time if I had been black or latino, or if I hadn’t had a family that supported me and exposed me to literature and art and beauty – whether I wanted it or not.
So, these ideas were bouncing around in my head. And I started to think about Chet. He’s a killer. He is a psychopath…but is it his fault? Michael…he is everybody’s “good guy”…but was it earned or handed to him. If you take a kid and put him in the ghetto with two drug addicted parents who don’t give a shit about him. If no one makes him go to school, or he goes to school but the teachers don’t care. If he has no positive role models. If the people he looks up to are hustlers and gang-bangers, then should we really be surprised when he breaks the law…when he has no regard for ‘the system’ that has utterly failed him?
And my bad guy, Chet. If Chet is abused and beaten and shoved around by the world. If he is given a gun and told to kill people for his country. If he does it and copes by hiding behind drugs and alcohol, should we really be surprised that he doesn’t come back home and become a preacher? The converse is true for Michael. It is easy to be the ‘good guy’ when you have never been tested. But what if you suddenly have to deal with the fact that four people were brutally murdered in your town and you don’t have the skills or emotional depth to deal with it?
I have learned the hard way that you cannot force your characters to do things that are out of character. So, the characters in ‘Joe Café’ took over. And it was fun, and interesting, and a little frightening. I wrote things that I was afraid to even think about in real life. But, like Michael, I have been afforded the luxury to live my life away from the brutality that really does happen. People are murdered. People are raped. There are people who kill for fun, or money, or because they truly just don’t care. It is not a comforting thought, but who said reality is supposed to be comforting?
‘Joe Café’ is about a murder in a small town. It is about a man who kills some people, steals some money, and kidnaps a stripper. It is about human frailty and also about incredible strength and the possibility of redemption. People ask me what the book is about, and I have a really hard time answering the question. It is not your typical crime story. It is about people. It is about how people react to life, the good and the bad. Sometimes, the very bad. It is also about beauty. It is raw and ugly, but it is also beautiful. It is very much like real life.
I was (and am) pretty happy with the way it turned out. Mainly, because it turned out to be a completely different novel than the back of my mind had planned.
Do you think addiction is socially engineered or hardwired into character and how does it relate to violence?
This is a very complex question. It also needs to be addressed on several levels. But first, a bit of back story. I have a very addictive personality. I sometimes eat the same thing for lunch for months at a time. I am addicted to reading and writing. I have also been addicted to alcohol and other substances. I have thought a lot about addiction and it is a recurring theme in my work. There are very few people I know who are not addicts. One of my oldest friends is on methadone and still shooting heroin. But there are subtler examples. I know people who are addicted to TV. To food. To exercise. To shopping. I think society is unfair in the way we view what an addiction is. An addiction is something you feel compelled to to so that you will feel good…or ‘not bad’. I have trouble placing harsher judgement on someone who is addicted to cocaine vs. someone who drinks six cups of coffee a day. The results may be different. But the mechanism is the same.
So, to answer the first part of the question. Yes, I think addiction is hardwired. I think it is hardwired into character (whether these characters are flesh and blood or exist on a page is of little concern to me). It is the way animals (and especially humans) operate. We work on reward systems. Whether your reward is a pint of ice cream every night or half a fifth of whiskey is kind of irrelevant. Let me be clear here. I am not saying the results are the same. I would prefer to be around people who binge on ice cream rather than drunks. Drunks do weird shit. The outcome may be different, but again, the way it works is the same. We are appeasing brains that are often to smart for their own good.
My Dad is a good example of the distinction I am trying to make. He doesn’t drink or do drugs. He doesn’t watch TV. He eats well. But there is not a doubt in my mind that he is addicted to exercise. He does more exercise in a day than I do in a month. He ran marathons. He puts hundred of miles on his bike every week. He does Yoga several times a day. What could be the harm in being addicted to something that is “good for you”? Well, the harm is that the results may be good, but the mechanism of addiction is the same. When my dad is injured and can’t exercise, he experiences something very close to withdrawal. He is anxious, irritable, unhappy. I worry about how this will play out as he ages and his body loses its ability to keep up. Point being, addiction is addiction. Some of us just happen to be addicted to more harmful things than others.
Now, for the second part of the question. I believe that violence (whether learned or ingrained) has little to do with addiction. Violent people are violent. I have never been a violent person. I used to drink a fifth of bourbon a night. It didn’t make me violent. I have spent days curled in the fetal position, sweating, wishing I could just die…I didn’t want to hurt anyone except possibly myself. The exception here is that sometimes we do things under the influence of addiction that we wouldn’t normally do. But I don’t believe it is as extreme as many people believe. I may have gotten into a few altercations when I was drunk that I wouldn’t have sober, but they were minor scuffles. I never slit anyone’s throat or tried to run them over with my car. I did more LSD when I was in college than I can even contemplate now. I thought, saw, and heard some weird shit, but I never wanted to fly off a roof or pull out my teeth with pliers or anything that Nancy Reagan promised I would do. I never stole to support my habits.
If you are inclined to be violent, addiction (especially drugs and alcohol) can make you violent, but the violence was already there. The addictive mechanism might give it a chance to present itself, but I don’t think it is fair to say that addictions/drugs will make you act out of character…they may make you act more in character, but that is a ‘chicken and the egg’ argument. If you never allow yourself to lose control, you might be able to suppress your natural tendencies better…be they violence, sadness, anger…but the tendencies are still there.
I have been sober for quite some time now. As I said, addiction is a recurring theme in what I write. In my novel, Joe Café, we meet Chet, a drunken, formerly drug-addicted psychopathic killer. But drugs and alcohol are not the impetus for his violence. They merely coexist. And I believe it is like that for most people, real or fictional. Addiction is part of the human condition. It is one of the less appealing aspects of being human. But it is merely there. It may amplify violence, but it doesn’t create it.
When you consider the addiction to sex, do you think it is bound up in a socially engineered narcissism that keeps various industries afloat, and is addiction beneficial to the economy?
Let’s start with the end. Is addiction beneficial to the economy? Most certainly. Addiction is the human condition and we drive the machine. There are so many levels to this. Obviously, there are things we pay for that are addictive: alcohol, cigarettes, junk food, etc. There are stories we pay for. Some people honestly care what Kim Kardashian is up to. I honestly don’t care enough to see if I spelled her last name correctly. But gossip is one of the most vicious and most easily ignored addictions. There are entire magazines and TV stations devoted to following people who are ‘famous’. And, in just my lifetime, the parameters of fame have changed so much. You don’t have to have talent to be famous anymore. Maybe you never did. But fame is attainable to more people now, and it drives the addiction. And gossip on the local level works the same way. We crave drama.
But we are talking about sex. My initial reaction was to think I am not qualified to answer this question. My sex drive is not particularly menacing. I’ve always been happy about that. I know that I won’t ever cheat on my wife. I don’t want to. And I am too lazy to. I have had a string of monogamous relationships since I was 16. Most lasted longer than they should. I was never one of those guys whose life was ruled by sex. I pity people like that. It must be a bitch of an addiction to deal with. As I’ve said, I have been addicted to many things, but they were often things that did not directly involve someone else. Sex addiction usually does. I say usually because I know that ‘sex addiction’ is an umbrella term that is forced to cover everyone from the man who pays hookers to beat him up and piss on him, to the woman who can’t stop sleeping with men because it makes her feel more powerful, to the kid who can’t turn off the internet porn and have a real conversation. It goes absurdly deep. And there are many double standards at play. As a society, we tend to think sex addicts are male. But there are women who crave sex beyond all else, women who use sex, women who let sex use them…it is unfair that we automatically assume sex addicts are men. But it is the way things are.
I feel sorry for anyone addicted to sex, but especially anyone addicted (compelled toward) ‘inappropriate sex’. I have OCD and I know what it is like to have compulsions that are hard to ignore. Thankfully, I am compelled to wash my hands too often and write too much. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be compelled to rape, take advantage of, or harm another human being sexually. What a tragic hand to be dealt.
Narcissism. Sex and narcissism are irrevocably linked, but I don’t think addiction and narcissism are. When you pass the normal sexual drive and enter the realm of narcissism…true narcissism, I think you leave addiction by the wayside. I have met very few proud addicts. Very few addicts that are not self-loathing on some level whether they are addicted to sex, heroin, or reality TV. Narcissus was not addicted to his own reflection, he was under it’s spell. There is a subtle but very important difference there. I will spare you an essay…this is a difficult one to pin down. Does sex support certain industries or Industry in general? Certainly. Is it ‘socially engineered narcissism’? No. I don’t think so. Narcissism is generally tame (vanity) or it takes us into the realm of the truly insane (serial killers are often narcissistic). Addiction is a craving. And addicts are craven. Forgive the wordplay, but I think it is true. Addictions rule you, you do not rule them. Is addiction beneficial to the economy? I think you could say the world economy depends upon it on just about every level.
William Burroughs used addiction in his fictions as an analogy of the power mechanisms at work in US and Western society. How do you view his interpretation?
Dang. Another good question. First of all, I need to break down my philosophy regarding power (not that it is particularly unique). When I was working with inner city kids, this is something we discussed a lot. Reason being, we have (as a society) odd ideas about what power is and how it works. In America, money is power. That is certain (and not just America, but I am American, so it’s handy). But power is an insidious thing. We tend to simplify it, I think, i.e, ‘power is strength’. Well, strength in what sense? Bill Gates is pretty damn powerful, but I bet I could kick his ass one-handed. And physical strength is meaningless in a society where guns exist. Part of the reason many people are infatuated with guns (Burroughs was one of them) is that they are the most compacted concrete example of power. A gun is a manifestation of power form-fitted to your hand. But then, we can also get more abstract.
Words are power. Trotsky proved this. Even more concretely than the kind of words you and I traffic in. But propaganda aside, words – ideas – stories are very powerful, albeit abstract and open to interpretation. We have been telling stories for thousands of years. Millions have died and continue to die because of stories. And stories also have the ability to transport us…something the scientific community hasn’t gotten quite right yet.
But, what I often discussed with my students – and what I believe – is that power is everything. Every human interaction is affected by power dynamics. The example I always used with my students was this. I was their teacher. That gave me a certain amount of power. But that power needed to be handled carefully. I am not a power-tripper. If I had been…and if I had been too heavy handed with my power, then I would have ended up losing power in the long run. By allowing my students to be empowered, I also garnered more power for myself. Teaching is actually a really good example. We have all had teachers who got off on their power. And what happened? You lost respect for them and they lost power. They skewed the balance and we, as humans, are naturally averse to that.
Western culture, and particularly America, suffers greatly because we have decided that capitalism is god, that money is power. There are different constructs that would be far less damaging. For instance. If money is power and the minority have most of the money, then the majority feels disempowered. But for $50, I could go right now and buy a handgun out of the back of a truck. Instant power. Then I can use that to try and right the scales. It is an ugly cycle. It is why our prisons are bulging. It is why murder rates and crime statistics continue to shock. Money is power. You either have it, work for it, or take it. And there are a lot of people who grow up in circumstances where there is one very obvious solution.
I was riding my Motorcycle a while back and a guy threw a beer bottle at me. The police got involved. I was shaken up. One of the cops, with his hand on his gun, asked me why I seemed so nervous. I said, “because you have a fucking gun, and I don’t.” That wasn’t the real reason, or maybe it was. But it was an interesting moment of mutual epiphany. But, back to point. Power dominates all relationships and interactions. I have a three year old daughter. Power is very important to children because they don’t have a lot of it. And it makes for some interesting interactions. I try to give my daughter as much power as I can without letting her live off cookies or endanger her life. Overusing your power is a bad call. Underutilizing your power is equally dangerous. The non-assertive are punished in western society. Humility is lauded as a virtue, but if you look at popular culture as a barometer, the idea is ridiculous. There are TV shows about the rich and famous. There are no TV shows about the poor and destitute. Except COPS and the like, and we know where the power lies there.
Now, to address the question. The way I interpret this is that we are addicted to power. And it is an insidious addiction because power means different things to different people. Money doesn’t motivate me as much as it does some, but I would be lying to say I do not recognize it’s power. Some people find power in what kind of car they drive…how scared their wife is of them…how revered they are in the community. As I said, I find a lot of my personal power in words and ideas. In knowledge. I am a fairly intelligent person. I am well read. I write well. This makes me feel powerful. It is pure egotism. I am a pretty good fisherman, too. That makes me feel powerful. As does my motorcycle. And yes, I am addicted. We all are.
If it weren’t for the addiction to power, western culture would grind to a halt. We do not value (many of us) the idea of the solitary philosopher sitting under a tree. We are not ascetics. We are consumers. We buy things we don’t need. We pride ourselves on our talents and judge the shortcomings of others. We strive for power and that fuels the machine. If we, collectively, decided that power (concrete, not abstract) was overrated…where would that leave us? Why would we go to work? Why would we shop online for things we have forgotten about by the time the mail brings them? Why would we be intimidated by the political systems…intimidated to the point of complacency?
Burroughs was a smart fellow, and maybe I have him all wrong, but it seems to me that he accepts that power controls everything and attempts to subvert it where he thinks appropriate. Which is what we all do.
Are you working on another novel?
This is an easy one. Right now, I’m revisiting a novel I wrote last year. ‘The Biker’. It is pretty much complete. I just need to edit it a few more times and then it will be out there. It is the first of a series. I wrote it as a challenge to myself, and it turned out better than I thought it would. So, I am rereading and tweaking and editing right now. I’m also working on a collaboration with three other writers I know. It is a lot of fun. It’s kind of an outlet for all of us. It will either be fairly successful or a complete disaster. I don’t really foresee any middle ground.
You write about the kidnapping of a lap dancer in Joe Cafe. Do you think sex workers have already been kidnapped and if so what do those forces that hold them prisoner tell us about the society we inhabit?
Good question. First, let me say that I did a lot of research (something I never do for characters), so I could learn about what it is like to be a stripper. Reason being…my imagination is pretty good, but there is no way you can understand what a stripper endures unless you have been one or have talked to many. There is a strip club in San Francisco (not a particularly sleazy one), where there is no cover charge before seven. So, I went and sat with my notebook. At first, I wrote down observations. Pretty soon, I was interviewing almost every dancer in the place. I owe them a lot. They knew they weren’t going to get money from me, but they gave me their time. Some just really wanted to tell their stories. Others appreciated that I was there to learn – that someone actually cared about the truly fascinating social dynamics they are surrounded by. I knew that there was a LOT to learn. And there is/was. So, point being, I know a lot about stripping.
There are a lot of hard ways to make money. Dancing naked for money has got to be one of the hardest. If you want to make a lot of money and are good at compartmentalizing, then it is a good gig. If you are one of the 3% who actually, legitimately enjoy the dancing and interactions with customers, great. But most strippers are not having fun when they are at work. Yet, the amount of money they make depends directly on portraying how much ‘fun’ they are having. Imagine a shitty day at work. And now imagine that to make rent you have to go grind your semi-naked body on a stranger. This stranger could be a gentleman. Many of the women I spoke to had great stories about kind, lonely men. The stranger might also be drunk and belligerent. It doesn’t matter. As long as he doesn’t cross ‘the line’ (and it’s a blurry goddamn line), then you do what you need to do to make money without it seeming like the money is the important part. I should write a whole book about stripping. It is a fascinating subject that most of us know nothing about.
To answer your question; I don’t think that there is a definitive answer. There are many stereotypes about strippers. They are all addicted to coke. They are all ‘working their way through school’. All they care about is money. Like most stereotypes, a lot of strippers fit them. Stripping is hard work and any energy boost (brain numbing qualities bonus), helps. A lot of strippers do drugs. And a lot don’t. Some strippers are working their way through school. A lot of them aren’t. And they all care about money, but some of them are genuinely nice and generous people, too. I interviewed/chatted with women for hours who knew they were losing money. I always told them to go make money any time they wanted and I would understand. Some of them stood up instantly and left. A lot didn’t. Sara is one of the more complex characters in the novel…more so than she seems at first glance, because that is how most of the strippers I met and talked to were…they were one thing on the surface, but there were layers upon layers beneath.
Do I think sex workers have been kidnapped? Some. Some kidnapped themselves. Expensive habits. Debts that needed paying…and once you are in the game and making money, it is hard to stop. Sometimes strippers make $150 a night. Sometimes they make $1,000. I am going to assume we are not talking about sex workers who are actually physically kidnapped because that is a whole different ball game. One I know very little about. And one that is incredibly sad.
So, yes, I do believe some have been kidnapped. By addiction. By greed. By the idea that the most valuable asset they have is their body. But there are also many women who strip because they can handle the negative aspects and want to capitalize on the weird fact that some men will spend $500 to talk to a scantily clad woman for a night. They are the minority, but they exist. I also believe that the hardcore, drug-addicted, heartless strippers are the minority. Most of the women I met started stripping because they were young, it seemed like an easy way to make money, and by the time they had gotten over the initial shock, inertia and money kept them going. There is a burnout point. Some people reach it faster than others.
As far as what all this says about society. The first thing I learned was that we are incredibly hypocritical and judgmental. I met some really nice women at strip clubs. And, sometimes during a conversation, I would realize that we had somehow slipped into some kind of therapy session (with them as the therapist) that they were gaining nothing from. Sometimes we just had a good chat. A lot of them were really grateful that I was writing a novel and that I wanted to portray ‘the strippers’ accurately and fairly. If you ask most people how they categorize strippers, the definition is pretty close to prostitution. I disagree. Sure, it can be that way. It depends on the woman and it depends on the club. Some dancers have very firm boundaries in place and take the job for what it is. A very hard way to potentially make a lot of money.
I also met some nice guys at clubs. That’s a big misconception, I think…that all patrons of strip clubs are lecherous perverts. Not the case. A strip club is a place designed to make a man feel special. I met rich guys who just wanted a place to have a beer and talk. I met shy guys who probably never talked to women outside a club…where the woman would make the first, second, and third move. There were jerks, too. But it wasn’t all old men in trench coats. So, our hypocrisy was my big revelation. And believe me, I am not trying to paint too rosy a picture. Weird, bad shit happens at strip clubs, too. But not as often as you would think.
As I alluded to earlier, the saddest thing for me when I was doing research…and the most appropriate answer to your question, is that I really understand (now) the damage we do by focusing on physical attractiveness. A lot of strippers are not supermodels, by the way. But that is beside the point. The way a lot of women get ‘kidnapped’ (and not just into stripping) is that they are born beautiful, and the fact that they are born beautiful has a strange fallout effect. We assume that pretty people have it easy. Some of the women I talked to wanted to talk to me because they were really well read, into music, and pretty intellectual. I could talk to them on that level. And I got the distinct impression that they did not get to talk about classic literature or musical theory very often. We pigeonhole people. And a tall, busty blonde does not get taken as seriously (in an intellectual capacity) as someone who is less physically attractive. That is the worst ‘kidnapping’ that I encountered…women who had accepted that they would not be ‘heard’ so they might as well make money being seen. And that paradigm exists outside the club as well. We are taught by society to worship the beautiful, but not for their minds.
Do you think tomorrow ever comes?
Does tomorrow ever come? In a literal sense, of course, no. Tomorrow is always ‘a day away’. I can’t believe I just quoted ‘Annie’. At any rate. That’s a boring answer. I can do better. Tomorrow is a concept that goes beyond its literal definition. Let’s run with that. OK, so tomorrow is hope. Tomorrow is the opportunity for a better today. Tomorrow is faith. And it is blind faith. And I find blind faith repugnant. Tomorrow might come, but it might not, too. And it is irrelevant since all we can possibly know is today. This moment. If we can even know that. I find the whole thing highly questionable. I have done enough mind altering substances to realize that there are things we do not understand. Not to sound like a hippy, but you go far enough down the rabbit hole and you learn some things. Some of them are bad. Some are good. Some make you realize you don’t really know anything.
We depend on tomorrow. It is an addiction in and of itself. And it hurts us. It is a cop out. I would live my life much more fully if I lived every day under the assumption that there would be no tomorrow. Literal or metaphysical. Except when I am fishing or riding my motorcycle or playing with my daughter, there are very few times that I actually live ‘in the moment’. And I blame the bastard we call tomorrow. It allows me to obsess about all the things I plan to do. It affords me the opportunity to procrastinate. Tomorrow is a bitch.
People often ask how writing benefits you; how does it hurt you?
Writing is one of the greatest things in my life. I am glad that I am able to do it. It is cheap therapy. I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the negatives as well, though. Writers are generally solitary folk. That is the stereotype, but it often holds true. It certainly does in my case. I am married, and I have a daughter. I have friends. I am seldom “alone”, but I feel alone much of the time. I am often inside my head, riffing on ideas, thinking about whatever I am working on. Social gatherings are difficult for me. Part of the reason is that my natural inclination is to sit back and observe…after half a lifetime of writing, that has become my default mode. I like to sit in a dark corner and watch people. I like to study their mannerisms and movements…the way they relate to each other. Not only does this make me feel uncomfortable at times, it is also not conducive to being a good party guest.
I think a lot of writers can relate to this. And, I shouldn’t just say writers. Being drawn to some kind of creative outlet to the point that is dominates your life is wonderful, but it is also a huge sacrifice and can be very draining. There are times that I want to chuck it all and give up writing. I never could. But the feeling surfaces sometimes and it is never because I have writer’s block or I am frustrated with slow sales – it is because my life would be a lot simpler if I wasn’t a writer. Or at least I like to think it would be.
I played in bands and that is a much different animal. There is fellowship and camaraderie there. Writers work alone. Except for the occasional compliment, they appreciate their work alone. Most people are not good readers or do not read. The fact that I know that my writing is far better now than it was 5 years ago is something I can be proud of. No one else cares. That is part of the writer’s pact. You give your soul to your writing, and it will never be appreciated as much as it should be.
This is also part of it’s allure. My relationship to writing is one of the most intimate I have. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And I am by no means trying to complain. Just explain. That is why writers gravitate towards each other. Richard, when I read Apostle Rising, I had the reaction many people do – what a damn fine novel. But I also know how much time and sweat and frustration and exhilaration went into it because I have walked that road.
No one truly appreciates the talents of others unless they possess the same talent. My brother in law is an excellent mechanic and fabricator. I respect and appreciate what he does, but I cannot truly appreciate it because I don’t know what all is involved. So, this is not a writer’s dilemma so much as a human dilemma, I suppose…or a creative dilemma. When you find your passion – if you find your passion – you make a deal. And, of course, the house always wins.
Do you believe in parallel universes?
I guess it depends on what you mean by parallel universe. Parallel implies that it runs along the exact same course as this one. I don’t know if I believe that. But I don’t disbelieve it. I feel very much the same way about it as I do about religion…and pretty much everything else. Agnostic. I don’t know. Nothing would surprise me. As I mentioned earlier, I have had some experiences that make me question my natural cynicism. Granted, I was under the influence of some pretty powerful chemicals for some of these experiences, but that doesn’t make me doubt them necessarily. And then there are other little things. I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t disbelieve in them either. I do believe I’ve seen one. I do believe a lot of ghost sightings are crap. I have rambled so much in this interview that I think I already mentioned this, but it was when I was a young boy. We lived in an old house in England. I got up one night and a lovely woman in old fashioned clothes led me back to bed. She was young and pretty, and I was not scared for a second. This could easily be written off as a dream, but I really don’t think it was. On the other hand, when I was a reporter in San Diego, I spent the night in the world famous ‘haunted room’ at the Hotel Del California. People travel from everywhere just to see it. I got to sleep in it. Totally peaceful night’s sleep in a nice bed. So, I’m by no means a promoter of ghosts. I just happen to have seen one.
I don’t doubt for a second that there is life somewhere else in the galaxy. I hope there isn’t a parallel universe because that would mean there are craven, selfish bullies screwing up another planet somewhere. Agnosticism is a handy cop out. But it is what it is. I don’t know what to believe. I don’t really believe in God, but if he showed up, I’d be cool with it. I believe the human brain is capable of far more than we give it credit for. I do not profess to understand the universe and the way it works. I don’t even understand the way email works. I do know that people have a tendency to buy into their beliefs too much and to push them on other people. I have a lot of faults, but I am glad that is not one of them. I am trying to figure things out as I go. I would never try to convince anyone that my personal beliefs are better than theirs. I am ignorant of many things, but I recognize this ignorance. I find some solace in that. And I like to keep my options open. Just in case there is another me somewhere typing on their laptop right now. Speaking of, I better nip this answer in the bud and take the trash out before his wife gets mad at him.
Thank you Dan for a brilliant and honest interview which I hope will draw new readers to your work.
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