As you may know, REVENGE OF THE PENMONKEY is on sale (a mere $2.99) — it’s been selling well and I’m up over 200 copies, which is just fine by me. The book features an autobiographical open which talks about my life and all the crazy shit that adds up to the writer’s existence — van crashes and strap-on-dildoes and lessons in profanity with my father and my father’s death and all that. It aims to be equal parts funny, sad, and enlightening all in one fell swoop. Anyway, I thought it might be best to give a taste of that intro (which is around a 10,000 word piece) as I think it’s one of the things that plagues most writers — this persistence that they should get a “real” job. I assume many artists and creative-types go through it. Regardless, here then, is a snippet of text from ROTPM. Please to enjoy, and please remember that procuring any of my e-books is what helps this blog stay in existence. And it’s what keeps me drunk and eating cheeseburgers on my office floor.
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Writers will hear this a lot: “You need a real job.”
As if writing is a job on par with “unicorn tamer,” or “goblin wrestler on the Narnia circuit.”
Even still, you hear it often enough, you start to believe it. I got kinda beaten down after college. I’d written two crap-tastic novels. I’d been hired for a bunch of bullshit writing work that was as pleasant as a dildo violation or a van crash. I was starting a lot of work that I just wasn’t finishing.
I felt like I had tires spinning in greasy mud. Couldn’t get traction. Spraying shit everywhere. The dream of being a writer was fading—a wraith in the fog I could not grab and could barely see.
My father was one of the voices in the “real job” chorus. He got me a “real job” at the plant where he worked. Want to know what that job was? I stood in an abandoned wing of a dirty factory all day attending to a giant 20-foot-tall pyramid of file boxes. I would pull down a file box. I would take the thick-as-my-thumb files from within. Then I would run the whole file through a giant industrial shredder I named:
The Bitch chewed through these files like she was a wood chipper in a former life. GGRRNNNGH. GRRRAAWWW. VBBBBBBBNNNGGGGT.
All day long. Eight hours. That noise. Destroying documents that may or may not have been documents people did not want the EPA to see.
After one day of doing this work, I came home filthy and smelling like weird chemicals.
I knew I had to quit. But quitting meant telling the boss. And the boss was my father.
Desperate, I drove around that night, looking for something, anything, literally hoping that a job would magically fall into my lap. And lo and behold, it did.
I found a discount bookstore setting up shop about 10 minutes from my house. They were just opening and needed workers to unload and shelve books. Books. Books. Fuck, I thought, I love books!
I went in that night. Met the manager, old Greek guy from Philly named Pete.
He said he liked me. Hired me there on the spot.
He hired me as the assistant manager.
Now, here’s the thing. The bookstore was only going to be there for summer and fall and then close up shop. It was always meant to be a temporary thing, but fuck it, a job was a job.
And it was the best job I have ever had.
It’s not just that I was surrounded by books. I’ve worked other bookstore jobs and they bounced between “ehh” and “fuck this noise.” But this job was different.
This job had Pete.
Pete was, like I said, Old Greek. Built like a sagging brick wall, head like a melting lump of Play-Dough, Pete was not what you would think of as a reader. But he did read, and he read a lot: lot of crime, lot of thrillers. (Lisa Scottoline, I recall, was one of his favorites.)
This was not Pete’s first bookstore rodeo. In fact, this one was rather cushy because a lot of the discount bookstores he opened were in the city—often in shitty parts of the city. He in fact was once shot while setting up just such a bookstore, taking a bullet as the place was robbed—prematurely, as it turns out, because they didn’t have any cash on hand yet. Pete he was proud enough to lift his shirt in the store and show off the pair of bullet wounds on the front and back of his egregious trunk (the entry and exit wounds, respectively).
He took a bullet for books.
Because, he said, books matter. And he liked his job. Worth the bullet. Proud of it.
It started to get me riled up about writing books again. Here’s a guy who took a bullet for books. Here’s a guy who was not dismissive of me being a writer but was in fact excited by it. To top it all off, every once in a while if Pete and I were on shift together he’d tell me to go around the store, pile up a single box with books I wanted, and then quietly go out to my car and ease it into my trunk. “I’m the manager,” he said. “You’re the assistant manager. It’s fine.” He let me essentially steal boxes of books from the store. Just wander away with them and take them home. Like so many lost puppies.
That summer I read a epic fuck-ton of books. It was glorious.
But Pete, man. Giving me all those books. All that storytelling energy, and there I was at its nexus. I bought all the Gaiman Sandman run. I read lots of obscure horror. I bought scads of weird reference materials, all of which I still own and still use (Dictionary of Phrase and Fable? Lawd’s yes). Pete took a bullet for books.
Because stories matter.
Suddenly, I started writing again.
It was good to emerge from that low place. Once again another lesson lurks in the weeds: writers will often have these moments of doubt, and you need to find your way out of that. You need to march your doubt out into a field and put a .357 round in the back of its head. Let its death soak into the earth, grow the wheat, make bread from its blood. Because, for real, fuck doubt. Fuck doubt right in its wax-clogged ear.