On Self-publishing, Writing my Novel, and Finding Inspiration: Part 2 of 5

Continued from: Part 1

What had distracted me during high school, the time when you have all this energy and that youthful need to speak your mind and share your infinite wisdom? What kept me disconnected from inspiration?

High school had been tough. Yours was probably too. Maybe it’s supposed to be that way. I went from living with mom in the burbs and going to public school to living with dad in the city and going to private school.

And that school was Catholic and Ukrainian. What?

My step-mother is Ukrainian and her brothers were going to this school. Now, I’m not Ukrainian, but it was that or Dangerous Minds High, and I was pretty much a big pussy.

So there I was, all early teen and uncomfortable in a school that spoke a different language and forced you to Mass every Friday. And, to really make it special, there were about 120 students in the whole high school.

So basically, NO WHERE TO HIDE.

I hid as much as I could, though. I spent a lot of time reading. Sci-fi and fantasy mostly, and plenty of comic books. I spent many weekends gaming. RPGs. Nerding it up. Creatively, I drew. I wanted to be a comic artist. I thought that would be “the shit.” Well, it was the mid-‘80s, so I don’t think we said that. I think maybe “tits”, “cherry”, or “sweet.” Whatever, I wanted to do comic books.

Turns out I CAN’T DRAW realistically to save my life. But I tried. I have evidence.

Eventually, I could hide no more. The crap I was hiding from had found me.  Like a Lifetime after-school movie, was I was hiding from was myself. If I didn’t figure out how to get it out, it was going to pull an Alien chest-burster on me.

The events during that time are worthy of a separate post, or perhaps a book. All I will say for now is during my senior year I rented a room from some old hippies, flipped pizzas and answered to no one.  This was the year that I began to understand myself at bit, and part of that meant getting my ass in college. I broke my back getting good grades, and that got me the scholarship I desperately needed, because the pizza money wasn’t going to cover it.

And somehow, there I was. College. If you have read any of my writing on this site, then you will laugh your ass off to know what my plan was going in…Poly Sci Major, Russian Minor. Get a job in an embassy. LMAO. Who was that guy? Whoever he was, I will thank him for one thing — he signed me up for a summer semester in Poland. When I came back, I changed my major to English, thinking if life didn’t work out by 30, I would travel and teach ESL.

And that got me to writing. Reading. Appreciating. But creative writing wouldn’t be the first thing I would attempt.

That would be journalism.

My school had a hell of a paper. It was a M-F daily, not any of this “hey, we’re students, we don’t work that hard” bullshit. It was a daily deadline, daily copy newspaper with a print run of 10k copies a day to whatever, maybe 18k on a big news day? I had friends that were involved. I wanted in. What would be my angle?

I struggled with this. What would I write about? I still haven’t found the exact answer to this.  The other week I asked my readers to give me an idea of what this blog felt like to them. What kind of writer am I, in their eyes? I got a few responses, which I appreciated.  Didn’t get any closer to answering my own fucking question, though.

THE MAN, Joe Bob Briggs

So, I pretty much had a way on to the paper, if I could figure out what I would write about. One summer day, I took a book out to the beach. It was a collection of movie reviews by Joe Bob Briggs. If you don’t know who this guy is, you should check him out. He’s the original drive-in movie critic, which means he writes about crazy, crappy movies. He has this colorful, gonzo style of reviewing that is unique and unmistakable. I was inspired by him. Joe Bob, if you ever read this, thanks man. Thanks for being such a damn funny writer.

It was decided. I would review movies and rip off Joe Bob until I could develop my own style! A quick chat with the Entertainment editor, and I was off to the show.

During my time at that paper, I cranked out a couple hundred stories, learned layout, and served as the Entertainment editor. I got some freelance gigs. Wrote for other Detroit-based papers. Had a story get syndicated in a magazine with a cool million print run. It got to the point where I wouldn’t even grab copies of the paper for myself, I was in it so often. It even paid. And honestly, I enjoyed the writing but never truly considered a career in journalism. Cue Alanis Morrisette.

This was a fertile time for my writing. I was beginning to find a voice, at least for my journalistic enterprises. I didn’t have to be Joe Bob anymore, but I was trying to keep my writing edgy, and in my mind, somewhat gonzo. I was young, getting to know people in the Detroit art/music scene (which has always been fantastic – urban decay births high expression rates). But youth, with its energy, also brings fickle interests. The entertainment writing wasn’t enough. I couldn’t shake the comic book thing.

I began to hang out with a gaggle of cartoonists – illustrators – who were far more gifted than I, but were more than gracious enough to entertain me. Real artists, comic book artists, like Sean Bieri and Matt Feazell. Hiding out in little coffee houses, they met along with others, to sketch, collaborate, and brainstorm. Out of this was born Mr. P! and his Damn Dog. Here is the first strip I drew with those characters, and I used my vast power as the Entertainment Editor to run the silly thing in the paper, on a slow day when none of my writers had copy. I should also note that I used a pen name for the cartoons: Jack Flap. Always liked the sound of that.

The first taste of victory was that even with my limited drawing skills, I felt that I had somehow stumbled upon my drawing “voice.” It was extremely liberating to not have to even attempt realistic depictions.

Mr.P! would become the main character in a blockbuster two issue self-published run, along with three other comics I produced during that time. Next time, I’ll have those issues for you to check out, along with the tale of Mr.P! and the brief publishing success we had together. Look for Part 3 to run here next Wednesday, as it is going to require some prep to get it together for you. I’ll do my usual book review on Tuesday though, so please do stop by – or I’ll kneecap you.

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