Host: Hello fans. This week, we’re going to be joined by Bob, who is a professional writer. Bob is a novelist who has been quite productive over the past 20 years. He’s written a variety of different novels, short stories, and literary pieces that explore the topics of human nature, friendship, and heartbreaking loss. Welcome to the show, Bob! Thanks for joining me here.
Bob: No problem. I uh, didn’t think we’d be meeting at Star . . . (Host interrupts.)
H: Shhh. Let’s focus on the career, Bob. There is a special direction your writing has taken recently. Why don’t we begin with that?
B: Uh, sure, yeah. (Awkward pause.) I don’t remember recitation as being part of learning algebra. You?
H: No, can’t say I do. The novel. One might say that you’ve dedicated your adult life to the process?
B: You could definitely say that. Sorry, what was your name again?
H: Francis. Moving on, you’ve recently changed your approach to the novel. Would you explain for the audience what the change has involved?
B: Sure. For a long time, I was writing for the Vintage Contemporaries set, you know, literary crap about nothing in particular. I wanted to talk about relationships, weirdos, misanthropes, the one who got away (then was gotten), so on. I did this for about ten years, then came to realization that there’s a reason most of this stuff is not published in hardback. The publishers make exactly zero on that crap.
H: I quite enjoyed Montana Lemon Zest–one could say it was quite a zinger!
B: I was on kind of a limoncello kick when I wrote that thing. There was that and I realized that my old-days hero, Tom McGuane, lived in Montana. There was always inspiration, which I’d come to realize something about.
H: Do tell!
B: What? (Looks annoyingly at kid reciting an algebraic formula at the encouragement of a twenty-something male schmuck providing some kind of instruction.)
H: Montana? What was the allure?
B: Oh, yeah. I don’t know, really. I hated everything I read in college, and McGuane wrote about alcoholic misanthropes, so I thought I’d do that. It got me a New York deal, and I thought I was set.
H: You’d think . . .
B: Well, my landlord had a problem with it. There I was, all set to bask in my success, and the fucker still wanted a rent check. I showed her an advance copy of my book, and she was like, “where’s the rent?”
H: They still gave advances back then, I thought . . .
B: Oh yeah. It was like two grand. I spent it at Liquor Locker immediately . . . figured royalties would kick in, then the screenplay.
H: Oh, I’m sorry! Was there a film?
H: Were the royalties significant?
B: So you wanted to talk about what I’m doing now, right, Frank?
H: Francis. Yes.
B: Well, after a few of the literary things just basically punched me in the nutsac, I decided that a different approach was in order. I mean I work at the DMV, so anything would be better, right? Thank fuck nobody looks for your name there . . .
H: Let’s focus on the books, please. You were saying?
B: I needed to find a way to make some money, so the age-old idea was to write fuck books. You know, romance, smut, whatever.
H: Your literary works definitely showed your talent for the relationship side of things.
B: Yeah, thanks. What the fuck do kids do in school these days? There must be like eight of these tutor-student bullshits in here right now? Does Starbucks employ these people? How much do you think having a kid read algebra out loud pays?
H: To romance. I must say that when I saw your name on the cover of an erotica title in Amazon, I was shocked. The cover was quite standard, what with the nearly-naked, shaven, heavily-muscled man in a sport coat holding flowers.
B: I fuckin’ hate the covers. But you have to, you know. It’s a chick’s market.
H: How do you mean?
B: It’s not just romance. Dudes don’t read. Something like 70% of the people who buy books are women. I wish I’d known before taking up the mystery gig–that paid worse than the literary shit . . .
H: Would you say that you’ve lost your passion for telling a story?
B: I wouldn’t say that. I don’t know what I’d say, really. Fuck books are where it’s at, once you figure out how to sell one. It’s like putting a puzzle together. Once you get good at it, you can slap ’em together like puzzles for stupid kids. What was the question?
H: Passion for the story?
B: Oh, yeah. It’s dead. I hate working at the DMV–there’s no romance in that shit, but it pays the bills, mostly.
H: Have you researched the romance market?
B: Oh yeah. It’s great. There’s some decent story, and not much fucking at all, really. You just have to write one like every month, which is a bit of downer.
H: Could one say that this is the state of fiction brought about by the eBook?
B: Yeah. (Turns to kid at table with balding adult tutor in tow: “Math is not a verbal enterprise, genius! Zip it!”)
H: (In hushed tone: “I come here a lot, Bob. Please, be gentle.”) On the point of the romance, what struck me about finding yours is that you decided to use your actual name, instead of a clever female pseudonym, like most romance writers. What was your motivation?
B: I figured there might be somebody out there who read one of my old books. You know, back catalogue and what not.
H: Did you find this to be the case?
B: No. Not at all.
H: What are your plans going forward?
B: I’m gonna get the fuck out of this place. It’s like fucking detention or something.
H: That’s a wrap, folks! We’ve got Bret Easton Ellis on the schedule!
Okay, so what happens when you get a really idiotic car project in good working order is this: boredom. Maybe it’s something like getting through your first pregnancy, if pregnancy lasted two years. Really, it’s probably not like that, (at least) if you can’t take the term pregnant to mean anything but carrying a future child around in your gut for nine months. Everything gets boring eventually, so we try other things to spark a bit of inspiration. Self-destruction can work at times, but there are better avenues. (Perhaps the normal people who never finish stupid car projects know this, and it’s why they never finish–it’s subconscious intelligence I lack . . .)
One solution is being a Teamster truck driver; you can choose this because way back when, in college, you took the opportunity to build this skill, and it served your life (meaning wallet, not life) effectively. This pursuit requires that one be available at any time of the day, all week long, to either drive a truck (18 wheels, yo) or move trailers in a yard with a thing called a yard goat. Driving a yard goat for a couple of hours in the middle of the night results in two experiences: chronic boredom and a great need to be somewhere else. If you’re like me, it also results in a really pissed-off shoulder. The truck puts you on a wrongly chosen residential street in Oakland in the middle of the night with a three-axle tractor and a 50-foot (grocery-specific) trailer where, oddly, people are actually nice enough to come out and move a car that’s parked at the end of the block (so as to avoid having the whole front of it run over by the aforementioned 50-foot trailer). The truck can also put you on Donner Pass in the middle of the night with the need to chain two axles of big-rig tires while trying not to get killed by drunk assholes sliding their way up an icy I-80 to go boarding for the weekend; no, the reflective vest will not save you. Once the basic thrill of difference has been exhausted, this job essentially makes you realize that you’ve made your life shit for the sake of boredom and some extra money. The only recourse is to spend all of the money in a stupid way, then quit (not necessarily in that order).
Another avenue is more contract work that happens on the computer in the home office. Your brain continues to reach new levels of capacity for repetition and tedium, then one day, you realize that you can’t make it past a normal office-person’s lunch period without a beer. Is it a capacity limit, or is it just freedom going too far? You tell yourself that if you just hold out a bit longer and get more work done, you’ll ride the mountain bike or figure out how to make a 315 fit in a fender designed for a 165. No, you just have another beer and remember that the death wheel has no business in beer-addled hands–same is said for the mountain bike and trail rocks that approach you at beer speed (results in broken face). Experience and practice provide answers, so yes, you’ve proven boredom via lack of mystery (with all fingers still available).
You’re tired of words because you’ve sold your soul to the devil in making the somewhat commercial use of them as your moneymaker–it was reasonable after eight years or so of college, during which time you wrote novels, studied novelists, and criticized words to no end. Life costs you time, money, patience, and spirit, but it rewards you with nice property in the end, so long as you keep your mind and avoid heroin (and other comparable habits). The thing is that words never go away, nor does the idea that if you approach them in the right dispassionate way, you just might be able to make a dollar from a certain kind of factory-like fiction writing.
Many moons ago in college, I heard James Ellroy (LA Confidential) say, in person, that he didn’t read fiction anymore. I called bullshit, not believing at the time that a “real” writer could ever reach such a state. Look around now. What new fiction really strikes me more than once a year (20 or so years hence)? Movies? Nearly zilch. The dude’s writing keeps on chugging. Mine peaks around a tree, sees a large vulture called laziness or labor or pointlessness, and says fuck it.
Here’s what’s really fucked up: Of all the labors I’ve pursued or stupidly agreed to over the years, none has provided the feeling of accomplishment that writing has. Enter disease that costs no money. Enter a person who could write smut with nearly no ego. Yes, I’ve been batting this idea around for some time, but reality is finally landing on this bitch, I think . . .
Okay, so I return to the blog and it seems like I’m saying the sky is falling. The truth is that I really like fried chicken–it is in fact generally the only kind of food I think about, if I happen to think about food. I don’t think about food much, but I do try to be entertained on a relatively regular basis, which leads us to the novel and the film/movie. Frank Smathers, do not take offense here; I understand making a living.
Pretty much every time I’ve tried to watch a movie lately, it’s required way too much effort to be entertained. I’m looking for character development and a story; if you have a plot, all the better, but I’m generally only looking for two out of three. The primary component anymore seems to be recognition of a memorable brand/quality before all else, hence the unending reproduction of superhero and former TV shite. No plot is needed; if you’re The Rock, who needs character? You’re The Rock, and you’ve got bitchin’ artificial muscle and super-duper tats that pretend to demonstrate some sort of ethnic affiliation–that’s human identification if you’re anyone who’s ever been to a mall on Saturday. If you’re playing Spiderman (or Spider-man, if you want to be super autentico), you just need some PJs and a decent workout regimen; youth helps, too. Beyond this, it’s special effects and fake tits, and people seem generally satisfied. Oh, wait. No they don’t. Most of the United States does not seem to be paying at the box office anymore, because, just maybe, we are tired of the shite, and the average YouTube dipstick who’s trying to impress you with the shit he just bought on credit is actually more appealing to the psyche . . .
Before moving forward with this rant, I have to address the novel. Yes, you might say that “book” sales are at a new high because of the eBook and Amazon, but really, when was the last time you talked to someone outside of a college English department who could actually convince you that he’s read a book? People buy eBooks because they are cheap and because they promise entertainment and enlightenment (if you’ve never read a book); Kindle Unlimited is basically Amazon’s device to figure out that nobody actually reads half or more of the eBooks that are bought/accumulated. The reality is that if you ask the average 25-year old how many books he or she has read in a lifetime, the answer, with honesty added, is usually one or less. High school is not where this happens and in college, well, you’re depending on a 75% part-time faculty to enforce and give a shit about the creation of basic literacy in ADULTS . . . Nope.
The novel is too long, and really, so is the movie. I hold out hope for the next James Bond effort, but its replacement, the Fast and Furious franchise, is just too stupid anymore (even for a mental car guy); the foreign financing and “quality” control has undoubtedly helped not at all. This is how we wound up and were saved by the cable TV show. At first, I bitched about True Detective, but that was only because I had to put it up against Banshee at first (Justified and so many others belong on a huge list that would really dwarf recent movie production, were such a list compiled). Both were so good in contrast to most all film produced in the last decade in the U.S. that it’s become very clear that the episodic production is just the most desired format, and it’s also apparently the only place where there is a willingness to allow for (somewhat new) character development, plot, and story in the same place. If we’re lucky, we also get good acting and production values. The film is simply a refusal to invest in anything that is not Walmart or Amazon. The (hard copy) novel, if you listen to the NY Times, is basically the same . . .
Let’s look at the novel. The world only had an appetite for one Elmore Leonard; Stephen King is read by a female audience that does not care to diversify. Fuck James Patterson–if you buy his shit, you probably wear a bib. Aside from this, outside of TV production and the 10 or so pe0ple who have ruled the NY Times bestseller list for my entire life, there’s not much room given to a new or interesting voice; the lazy-ass audience doesn’t help. In my old age, I am willing to admit (or complain) that there’s no point in a book that goes beyond 250 pages, but this is from someone who has read a few books. Mostly, what’s bigger than this is just an editing failure, but I cliche (digress). The novel is too long and really, so is the novella. What does this leave our abbreviated attention spans? We need more good instrumental music and something episodic that is the equivalent of the average (good) cable TV show, whether or not Kevin Spacey is involved.
What I’m doing here is arguing the value of story. It is valued somewhere; in the book world, it’s essentially in the romance, specifically the erotica bent, as that one allows for human-like character development (rather than perfect firemen named Cole–no irony intended). Yes, I’ve done research, and I know who Lauren Blakely is. In the film world, it’s cable TV. Secondarily, people who commute, who are some of the biggest “readers” in the world, require audio books, because the law does not allow them to read while driving . . .
Fuck. And yes, TLDR.