Category Archives: Autobiography

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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On Self-publishing, Writing my Novel, and Finding Inspiration: Part 1 of 5

This was posted on the wall of my personal Facebook yesterday:

Skimming through your blog, more specifically Leather to the Corinthians. Everything you’ve posted was f@#!ing unreal. Is it getting published? Cause I would buy that shit in a heartbeat. I would buy 10, and give them to friends to spread the word. You’re working on something special, good sir. – Nick E.

Talk about fuel for the fire! As I get closer to publishing my book, I get more excited with every step. But, it’s been an arduous and painful trek so far. Over a series of posts, I’m going to review my history with self-publishing and why I should never have even bothered with sending query letters to agents. Screw those people. F@#! ‘em in the ear. Call me!

My first foray into authoring books was my epic space opera, War of the Worlds. I wrote, illustrated, and published this single edition, single copy masterpiece in the third grade. I know that there is no reason why I should still have it, but here it is. I have also managed to hold onto a Cro-mags t-shirt I bought in 1986. Strange what follows you. As for the book, I have no idea what was on the cover, which sucks.

Making that book was a powerful experience. I was an avid reader – still am – and I loved to draw. To do something that was my own, to own the story – that was the stuff. I was locked in.

From that point on, I scribbled out little comics and stories. Those have all disappeared. They are out in the ether. Gone forever. Created and destroyed by time. But throughout that time, I made my stories for myself, and aside from the kid sitting next to me in 5th hour Geography, I was the only reader of those stories. Essentially, I was a medieval scribe.

It wasn’t until high school that I discovered the concept of the APA – Amateur Press Association.

If you’re not familiar with these, basically it worked like this: 40 people (or however many) would decide to create a collaborative publication. They would put in stories, comics, illustrations, whatever. Each member contributes their part. Then a Master Collator puts them together, and sends one out to each of the 40 members. 40 copies, that’s it. Just for the club.

MIND-BLOWING. What an idea. In 1987, this was a bold new idea. And with the technology at the time it was put together with Xerox machines and snail mail. This was wild stuff.

Unfortunately, I was not able to get into an APA, but I read the copies of a friend who was a major contributor. I loved the DIY aspect to it. Way cooler than bookstore mass-produced bullshit. It should also come to no surprise that I was very much into American Hardcore Punk at the time, and that scene was filled with fanzines, posters, stickers, and other self-published material – music not withstanding.

Here were people that weren’t trying to get big, get noticed, market and promote on a massive scale. They just wanted to speak their minds, create, and share it with like-minded folk. Sure it was great to get a name, get gigs, and get a following. They just weren’t prostituting themselves, and they were taking the means of production into their own hands. No gatekeepers, no agents, no minimum profitability. FREEDOM.

What was going to be my thing? WTF could I do? Due to a rocky teenage period, which included heavy socializing and experimentation, ahem, I had lost connection with my muse. But I still wanted to CREATE, I just wasn’t sure what that creation might look like. It wasn’t until college that I would begin to find my inspiration…

See you in Part Two (when I decide to become a journalist and where you will meet the mysterious Mr. P! and his Damn Dog.)

If You Can Read This, Thank a Teacher.

This week, May 7-11, was Teacher Appreciation Week. Everything that the human race has every accomplished, from engineering to medicine to philosophy to technology to writing blogs…we owe it all to teachers. The influence of a great teacher is immeasurable and infinite.

I have been in education for about 8 years now, and the vast majority of that time was spent in a high school classroom. Some of the best years of my life. Many of my good friends are there right now, on the front lines of education. Hats off to them, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE. If you have time today, thank a teacher as well. As with all “dedication” days, weeks, or months…you don’t need to wait to give your thanks. Teaching is tough work, and appreciation is well…always appreciated.

Here’s an item from my HS classroom days. I had the awesome luck to teach Journalism and TV Production. This video should give you great insight as to what kind of teacher I was. Have a great weekend.

I Wrote my First Book in the Third Grade.

The nature of writing and the process of writing is such that you are forced to spend a lot of time in your head. A lot of time reflecting. Dwelling. Stewing. Imagining….etc.

This is probably why so many great writers had serious chemical dependency issues and more than a few have punched their own ticket. You’re up in your head, with no one to share the madness. And writing is such an isolated process…unless you enjoy taking your notebook to a coffee shop and taking that end stool so everyone can see what a deep, interesting person you are. To hell with that.

Putting this blog together has given me the opportunity to crack open the vault and dig through the piles of scrawlings stored within. There have been some surprises, and material that is downright embarrassing. Last night, as I was mining my genius, I came across my first true effort as an author…and illustrator.

In 1979, I was in the third grade. I had a mean old bag for a teacher, and all the kids secretly hoped for her demise. The power of the group mind is powerful, and for some reason she got sick and left for the remainder of the year. I have no idea what it was, but it was bad enough. This cleared the way for a seriously cool teacher, whose name was Ms. I Have No Friggin’ Clue.

My school hosted “Young Author’s Day,” and I am pretty sure that it is still going on, but maybe not as my school handled it. For a few weeks in the spring, every student in the school (k-6) dropped everything and made a book. Then, they were proudly displayed at reading tables in the gym. It completely rocked, and it was my favorite thing.

And that was the spark, clearly. A lot of kids wrote dumb shit about their pets or their family. NOT ME. I wrote a SCIENCE FICTION EPIC that featured foreshadowing, humor, glitzy high tech, classic space opera, full color illustrations, and a healthy amount of copyright violations. I even had the balls to use cursive script throughout. Looking at it, there’s still quite a bit of that kid hiding in my adult armor, battle-scarred and all.

And now…”THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.”

Is that title public domain now? It is pretty old.

Mother’s Day 1969-96

A poem written to my mother as a gift, Mother’s Day 1996. Yep, it’s autobiographical.

 

Spring
69
Woodward cruises
Beatle beats, young and pretty, blonde hair
reflecting golden sunny glow coming down from jewel-blue skies.
“Can you feel it when it passes through you?”
Skinny, Rock & Roll. Oh he’s so dangerous. Rebel rebel on the street,
friends keep asking you why he’s not a normal American guy.

Spring
69

Warmer days and cooler nights, school concluding, future plans ideas
at best. Why do you like this bad little boy, fringe leather long hair and
shit-eating grin?
Fair skin, gentle smile, Berkley girl
Who could hang for a while
Cool kids in a fragile moment
It’s not so bad in this shrinking spring 69

It’s cool and that’s all
anybody needs in the treasure of youth. He’s a perfect pirate at best.
But for a sliver a bit it had all been a returning smile a gentle wink and a
walk around town.

Detroit and its almost summer. All right. 69. Xtra life in your belly.
Sweet mode, the summer of love upon you and its greatest sum is your
equation.
Maybe now it’s not a rebel you seek, but there he is.

Summer
69

You feel fine. All the love of the world grows inside you.
Who was that young glowing mother whose sandaled feet strolled under
that warm season sun. Fresh and full of life, scared but hopeful, optimistic
but cautious, courageous and poetic.
Suddenly it’s not so simple, but beautiful none the less.

Music comes out of convertible cars rolling slowly down Woodward
in proud De-troit style. How life’s course changes in an instant. People who
might have been a night away from can affect the events of decades to
come.
Slowly turning tires on flashy cars, music, the beat–the heartbeat of
the street. Young girl, the mess of love, now with belly swelling dire. A
range of emotions like light through a prism.

Summer
69

Late August humid nights. Young boy and young girl in the face of
life. A knuckle down in the sacrifice
for the upcoming
and now the price.
Random like the leaves off the trees. No one can plan their fall.
Design beyond our reach. We can only sweep thereafter.

Fall
69

It’s colder and bolder in the heart of the city. Big world has come, ready or
not, it is quickly becoming time for the big game. He’s staying for the game.

Darker skies and November chills your boy(?) is almost upon you.
How the days have passed, I can only fictionalize. Summer of loved passed
to fall nights, Berkley taillights. What nerves danced behind your doe eyes?
Were you dying or lying or crying behind them or did you laugh and smile
and await your child?

Fall
69

It’s coming up in just a while.
It’s crisp and cold. It’s a Michigan winter. Loose long cotton sheets give
way to thick dark wool and pile on the duck feathers. The wool scratches of
young love are contrasted with down comforter sympathies.

Winter
69

Oh will it be alright? Will it be good? she asked herself.
Young pretty mother soon had watched other mother’s daughters
engage in ritual in local parks and hilltops. Happiness rained down on these
hills moments away.
Slide down and away on billowy coated snowcaps.
Whisping, swirling snow. Soft and flaky, gentle bed. Young will-be-mother lays down in it.
Starts making snow angels. Sometime after Christmas (she smiles)

It WILL be alright.