You want to be a writer – I get it. The hours are good and just maybe you’ll be the next Lorrie Moore (and/or J. Grisham). But before you call and book your glamour shots, there’s something you need to know. And what you need to know is this: If you’re going to be a writer, you have to accept that you’ll never come up with a character’s name better than (or even as good as) Johnny Utah (See: Break, Point). Oh, sure, you can try. And lots of luck to you. But at some point you’ll drop your pen and mutter, “Son of a gun. He was right!” And by he, I mean me.
You can’t take this personally. Johnny Utah…let’s just say it: he’s the perfect character. Not only was he a star quarterback in College (D-1!), but he was an FBI agent. Not only was he an FBI agent, but he could surf! How much more convincing do you need?
Could Hamlet surf? Was Hamlet an FBI agent? Did Hamlet play quarterback in College? No, no and NO. Advantage – Johnny Utah. I think that’s enough for one night, don’t you?
Nobody has ever asked me how to be a writer, which…is a pretty big hint if you stop to think about it (which I never do). So I woke up today and thought, “You know what? I’m going to tell America how to be a writer anyway – simply because.” Now, I don’t want to flood you with information. That’s the last thing I want. No, I’m going to dole out my wisdom in dribs and drabs. The first thing you need to know if you want to be a writer? Gravitas rhymes with rabbit toss.
Saturday night, I cajoled myself into doing a Facebook Live reading from Comedy Album, this book that I wrote. It‘s a comedy album in book form, which maybe has been done before? Even if it has, I guess it would prove my point that it’s tough to find things people haven’t done yet (Shorter: People are sickos).
Anyway, I did this reading (link below) in a spare bedroom and largely off the cuff. It was like doing a 20-minute set in a vacuum. And yes, this would be a perfect time to come at me with a vacuum/suck joke. I’m here all week, folks. Don’t forget to tip your waitstaff.
Every day, I wake up and think, “What a strange time to put out a book called Comedy Album.” But then, invariably, I come back to the realization that it’s a strange time to do ANYTHING. The fact of it is, we live in strange times, always. And to pretend otherwise is probably the most absurd response out of all possible options. That’s the hard fact of it.
The headline pretty much says it all. When it comes to copping material from myself, I’m a repeat offender. What’s funny about it, is that I often don’t realize I’m doing it. For instance, in my newest book Comedy Album, there’s a poem towards the end called Happy Hour. What I didn’t realize until just recently was that Happy Hour was in a near-final version of a previous book of mine, Dark Glasses. That fact escaped me until I spent half an hour recently, paging through that marked-up draft of Dark Glasses.
It happens a lot where I really like a given poem but despite my best efforts it naturally separates itself from whatever it is I’m working on. Lucky for me, I often sympathize with these poems especially and – consciously or not – wind up creating new homes for them. As far as that goes, one of the first things I ever wrote – The Kitchen Sink, a truly unwieldy collection of gags and one-off jokes – is really the Rosetta Stone of my later works. It’s definitely a rough template of what was to come and many of the individual pieces it’s made up of later found their way into collections I’ve cobbled together.
Besides being unusual – a mutt of a collection, albeit one with at least some shaggy dog charm – The Kitchen Sink is also very rare. There are only two copies in the whole world. Even so, some would likely argue, that’s two too many (which also sounds like the title of a 90’s Rom-Com).
One of the hard parts about being an Indie author is…there are dozens of things which make being an Indie author difficult. For one thing, you are your own publicist. There’s no one in New York or Culver City making phone calls on your behalf. So the best you can do is the best you can do.
In this respect, I’ve already been pretty fortunate. A few days before Comedy Album was officially released, I was interviewed by Prairie Public Radio out of Fargo, North Dakota – about the book. It was one of those interviews where some chemistry occurred. The host, seasoned and erstwhile Doug Hamilton, seemed to find me amusing and I found his questions to be a) on point and b) also amusing. It was a fun chat. And if this is my high water mark in terms of promoting the book, I can walk away feeling alright.
My pen name was once Henry Rifle. It was a catchy handle, one that rolled off the tongue real smooth. In addition to having a nice ring to it, it’s also a real gun. According to Wikipedia, it was ‘the basis for the iconic Winchester rifle of the American Wild West.’ So I suppose there was at least a small dash of romance to it too. But no matter how I feel about it now, it’s part of the package. It’s cooked into the stew.
All that being said, I did come by the handle somewhat honestly. After all, my bloodline is thick with Wild West gunfighters. First, there was Kid Vaseline. He was a mysterious fellow, one who…kept largely to himself. He was in one gunfight and one only, and, naturally, he lost (his gun slipped right out of his hand).
His son, however, picked that gun up, wiped it off and did his best to carry on the family tradition. But the fact of it was, he was sick a lot; a whole lot. Like his dad, he kept largely to himself. Which is how he acquired his nickname – Kid Quarantine.
Kid Quarantine’s son? Now, his son was the very last of the gunfighters in my family. Like his old man, he had a predisposition to catching colds. But by the time he came of age, the Old West had passed. So even though he was pretty handy with the steel, the chance to test his mettle never materialized. And so, just like that, The Tonsillitis Kid receded quietly into the history books.
So this is my blog, and welcome to it if it was the QR code on the back cover of Comedy Album that brought you here. Welcome, too, if you simply drifted in from elsewhere in cyberspace. All are welcome here. Feel free to mingle.
If you did come here via that QR code gateway, make sure you drink plenty of water. All that dry humor…it can’t be healthy. Not for anyone.
As to what happens now or should happen now, that’s the confusing part. Am I writing/maintaining this blog for John Q./Sally J. Citizen, those brave few individuals that might check in here regularly OR am I writing for Comedy Album readers? I don’t know. It’s Monday, and I’m never at my best on Mondays. Or Tuesdays. Or Wednesdays, either, really. Thursdays are pretty good, though. So let’s table this debate until then, at least.
If you know me, you know how ridiculous the title of this blog post is. Chances are, I’m barely even warmed up as far as talking about my new book – Comedy Album. But for now, let’s assume I’ll find a new angle quick enough and we’ll wrap this up real neat-like. Just know I will be turning the car around again and likely sooner rather than later.
Yesterday, or the day before, I said that Comedy Album was about not fitting in. But it actually goes a lot deeper than that. Comedy Album touches on my deeper feeling that everyone else on this world has some kind of…it’s like they came into it knowing things I didn’t know. They knew all the rules by heart before it even occurred to me that a game was in progress. And whereas they seemed to avoid every pitfall, I blundered into every single trap in my path, tripped every last tripwire.
So when I lead the book off with a poem like this, just know that there’s something to it. And it’s not a small thing, either. Know that it tells the story of everyone who has or has had feelings like the ones I’m so intimately familiar with; that feeling of not belonging. That feeling of standing firmly outside the circle. But also know that it’ s a book about realizing…maybe that’s not a bad thing. I mean, does it have to be? Maybe it’s a good thing. That’s what I want you to think about.
Comedy Album is for sale online (in print and e-versions) and can also be ordered through Cream and Amber bookstore in Hopkins, Minnesota.