On Self-publishing, Writing my Novel, and Finding Inspiration: Part 4 of 5

Continued From Part 3…

I was super pissed to lose that newspaper job. It had been a part of my daily life for a couple years. I sacrificed a lot of bar stool time for that. I learned much during my time there.

If you are a regular blog reader, WordPress cruiser, or aspiring blogger you no doubt run across lots of sites that explain how to write. They have thousands of posts with helpful advice. Much of it is fairly useful. However, I can’t help shake the feeling that there is more writing about writing than there is writing about anything else. Hell of a market, I guess.

One thing I learned from that paper gig was that in order to become a better writer you need to write constantly. Deadlines are a plus as well. I wrote miles of copy at that damn place, and I was much better for it. So I made my statement to the publication board explaining why the decision to fire me was incredibly asinine, and I walked out the door.

I found myself in a creative writing class, the one I briefly mentioned in Part 3. It was fairly liberating to not have to work strictly in the realm of journalism, but instead I could try to be all deep and pretty with my words. I can certainly dish out the deep stuff (deep what I will leave to you). Pretty, well…pretty just ain’t me.

Zoot’s was always good to me.

In that class, I met a boy. The story doesn’t get all Rom Com now, so just settle down. I met this dude named Todd. Todd was a dark and angry type, but had a searing wit. He was a fantastic writer, and he worked mostly in poetry at that time. Todd dyed his hair black, and completely stole Nick Cave’s look. Ask him, he’ll admit it.

Todd and I became buds quickly. We both wanted to do something with our writing. Todd was fairly determined to become a PERSONALITY. He was interested in performing and making a name for himself. He encouraged me to get involved with spoken word.

I never thought of myself as a performer. Never really had the inclination. However, and this is another great lesson about writing, reading your words out loud to a room of highly appreciative (or unappreciative) folks is a great way to get better. If it sounds like crap, it probably reads like crap. Being that this was about 21 years ago, getting on a microphone and sharing your writing was about the best way for an unpublished writer to go. You just had to have the balls to do it.

Flyer from my first spoken word gig.

So, with Todd’s encouragement, I booked my first performance at the Shadowbox, a groovy little coffeehouse that could only exist in a pre-Starbucks era. Detroit had a solid coffeehouse scene back then, and over time, I would stand up and read at all of them.

Interesting historical note here: A massive ice storm nearly shut Detroit down the day or so before I was to perform. If it wasn’t for the heroic folks at Detroit Edison, I might not have had that gig, and I might have found a way to weasel out of future shows. I get fairly nervous when reading. It just might be all the coffee I guzzle before the show. I dunno.

Without a doubt, the amount of adrenaline that pumped through my veins that night could fire up a bulldozer. As I read my “pieces” (of what…again, up to you) I went into some kind of blackout. While I was gone, I was apparently a very entertaining guy. Writers rarely hear applause. We hide in dark rooms, bang out our thoughts, and then someone takes them off to another dark room to enjoy them. Writers don’t often get that immediate feedback. This is why many drink themselves into a grave or commit suicide. Too much isolation.

The best part was that I was able to finally work with my friend Scott. We also met in a college class (The History of Film, I think). Scott was and still is a highly talented musician. He provided some fantastic music for me to read over. After that night, Todd, Scott, and myself would begin to plot out our plans for world domination.

We kinda formed a band. Todd would read for half the show, and I would read the second half. Scott would play for both of us. Todd had angry, dark, almost industrial kind of poems. Mine, well if you spend any time on this blog you can tell I don’t stay in any particular hole for too long. This band, or performance group, or whatever it was became the FRICTION PERFORMANCE NETWORK.

I didn’t pick the name. Todd’s girlfriend did. She was such a Yoko. To this day, I think mehhhhh.

Once you have something to sell, you have to go out to sell it.

But that’s what we went with. Scott had us over to his house and we recorded enough material to put out a cassette. Yep, a good old cassette. I think we used a 4 track recorder. I recently got digital copies of those recordings, and man, my voice sounds even worse than it does now.

We started rolling. The three of us did several episodes of a radio show that featured local artists (The Homeboy Show on 89X for those scoring at home). The host, Kelly Brown was a big supporter. We also read on WDET, the Detroit NPR affiliate. The whole time, even with all this energy, I was still fairly nervous whenever I got on a mic. It was, however, a means to an end.

Now, time and other factors have blurred the timeline a bit, so this might be out of order moving forward.

Our biggest gig in that incarnation was at the Magic Bag, a nice-size concert venue where we shared the bill with two local favorites, Skinhorse and Discipline. We got that show together, and pretty much sold out the place. It was very cool to see Friction up on the marquee.

Friction also began to pick up additional members. Our friend Zach became our third reader. He had a jazzy, almost beat poet vibe. We brought in visual artist Dan Santoni (An amazing photographer, check his site out. I’m so proud of the guy) who created set pieces, lighting and mood. We also grabbed our friend Tim, who provided bizarre DJ mixes using odd albums and recordings. It was a THING, man. A total THING.

Friction Performance Network at FULL FORCE.

We played maybe a dozen shows. Hit all the coffee houses. Put together a press kit. Formed a publishing company. Had articles written about us in the Detroit News, some fanzines, and the like. We played at the Dally in the Alley, one of the seminal artsy fartsy street fairs in the Detroit scene.

I also cranked out a chapbook, so I would have something to sell at shows. We had sold the cassettes just fine (anybody still have one?) but I wanted a book for folks. This was my next foray in self-publishing. I had expert layout design, went to a printer, the whole bit. There are some early versions of my novel in that chapbook, and long after my book has been available, you just might get to see it.

I also managed to score a local host spot for Lollapalooza, the year they had a spoken word stage. I held the qualifying slam in a bar, and was able to put together the best group of readers you could ever want. A highlight of that day was getting the chance to read a piece with a guitar player from crazy-ass-art-noise-band The Boredoms to back me. Other members of that band videotaped that bit, but I never did get to see it.

In addition to all these gigs, I was spending time at a few spoken word nights. By far the best one at that time was Night of The Living Poets, hosted by Dan Demaggio. He’s the funniest writer I have ever known, and if I ever have the juice to publish him, you’ll read and agree.

Dan used to host this open mic every Monday night at Lili’s, a classic Detroit scene bar. There I met Jimmy Doom, as solid a joe you could ever meet. I had been a fan of his hardcore band, The Almighty Lumberjacks of Death, but I never knew the guy. We’re still friends, and he is making a nice name for himself as an actor. You can check out his IMDB here. I got to share the stage with Jimmy a couple times, my best memory being the two of us doing a dramatic reading of a Ginsu knife commercial at an Earth Day Festival. It was somewhat lost on the granola types.

We pissed a bunch of people off at an art fair. That’s when you know you’re doing it right.

So there is all this goddamn creative energy, a storm, a truly unstoppable force. Well, it stopped. At least for me it did.

I have mentioned that I was reading so that someone besides my friends could experience my writing. I wanted to SHARE. How vulnerable and sensitive of me. I was still always forcing myself to get on stage. I didn’t crave it. I didn’t NEED it. But, I did it anyway.

The first bit, Todd took over the Living Poets night, and he didn’t want to share the bill. I think he thought I was cramping his style. Ok, whatevs. The second bit was that I had started bartending at The Red Door, a blind pig that is still legendary for many. That’s a book right there, but I am sticking with fiction for now. Bartending lead to carousing, and carousing was far more fun at the time then lattes and feelings.

At this point, I threw up my sails and let the wind take me. It took me away from writing, although there were blasts of late night scrawlings. However, the call of the road and a litany of mistakes were on the horizon. It was time to actually live, and not just observe others and write about that.

DJ Tim is what sells this show. Look at the glory!

Still, to live in the words, to collaborate with other artists, to CREATE. Beats the shit out of sitting at home with your notebook. This was a critical part of my life and I’m grateful to have done it and remained friends with almost everyone. Todd is the one guy who disappeared in the ether. Even a Google search brings nothing. Todd, if you are reading, contact me.

As for spoken word, over the past six months ago I have begun to revisit it by hitting an open mic or two and doing the recordings that I have been posting to this site. Although I would not consider them to be professional quality, it’s a great exercise and I expect to be doing a lot more of it in the future. It’s extremely healthy to get out there. It’s good for the spirit, and that in turn is good for the writing.

Next time, I’ll actually get to the part where I talk about writing my first novel.

Read Part 3

Read Part 2

Read Part 1

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