Good morning and welcome back to the trenches. Again, this is not a book, this is a blog showing the process of writing a book, so if you get all faint at the sight of unfolded edges not yet perfectly tucked into hospital corners and all, I suggest you check your ticket to make sure you’re on the right flight. Because me? I like things at the imperfect stage, because perfection is the enemy of interesting.
Okay the last I left you I was stuck with one foot in the real world and the other in the quagmire of Family Law World. It’s a shitty balancing act, but if you’re a parent dealing with an abusive ex who loves the court system, you better learn to juggle and never drop any balls.
Okay, let me stop here to describe the state of my industry at the time. The Print Industry was now my sole source of income because I’d taken a prolonged leave from the airline where I worked. I did this because, believe it or not, it had been presented to a family-law judge that my stable job of 14 years with one of the best companies in the country was somehow bad for my daughter. (It went something like this: Mother spends time away from child to be at work=Bad. Father spends time away from work to be with child=Good. Never mind that both parents spend exactly the same time with the child). Granted, the officer of the court who presented this to the judge was an inexperienced, duplicitous, evil piece of shit who had my ex’s figurative dick in her mouth, but wailing about that wasn’t going to help my child in the here-and-now, in the here-and-now I was on a weird game board and I had to learn to play the game. So the first thing I did was call my supervisor and quit my job.
My supervisor’s response – God bless him, I love him to this day – was to talk me out of it. He suggested I take a voluntary furlough instead. It was a five-year furlough, and at the end of it there was a chance I could get my job back if conditions at the company were amenable. So I grabbed it. In the mean time I had to beef up my writing gigs because I had a kid to raise and a monthly ransom to pay.
So I did, and it worked, for a while. Then the “collapse of the print industry” happened, and everything fell to shit. By 2008, all of my clients except one went bankrupt or out-of-business, and the single client I had remaining chopped my fee by more than half. The book deal I had in the pike with HarperCollins went pffffft because the head of my imprint, Judith Regan, got in a cat fight with one of Rupert Murdoch’s other pet bitches and lost, thereby getting herself canned. It was totally unfair what happened to her, but by now I’d learned that wailing about unfairness had all the impact of jacking off in an outhouse, not only was it futile and stupid, but if people caught you doing it they never respected you again. My mantra became: Buck up, shut up, and figure it the fuck out.
So between book deals I needed income. What to do? I heard MediaBistro.com was looking for people to teach book-writing classes, so I sent them an email saying I was interested. Never heard a fucking peep back from them. Not even a form rejection letter, and thank God. Because that gave me the time to think, what the hell am I doing offering to teach a class for someone else? I decided that, for now, instead of me teaching the class, I’d take the class, get it? Then I took a bunch of other similar classes all over the country (because I still got to fly free as part of my furlough benefits).
I know, it was weird, taking book-writing classes when I was already a best-selling memoirist, but first, it never hurts to learn new shit even if you think you know everything, and second and most important, I was less a student of the craft than I was a student of the teaching of it. Basically, I went to all these seminars, conferences, classes and workshops to see how they did it, what they did right and what they did wrong.
Because they did a lot of shit wrong, if you ask me. Take for example, the time I arrived late for a six-hour publishing seminar. I’d flown to LA from Atlanta just for this stupid class, arrived late, and there wasn’t a seat left for me. They literally expected me to stand in the back for six hours. Are you shitting me? I thought. I paid an assload for this stupid class in advance, there should be a chair with my name on it that can sit empty the whole time for all they should care, I paid for that fucking seat. I mean, it astounded me that a simple thing like having enough seats for the people who paid to be there would be an actual issue.
Another issue was the seats themselves. These people spent a lot of money to attend these classes, and often they were expected to sit through them in metal folding chairs and backless benches. It pissed the shit off out of me when I showed up to one of these classes to see rows of just folding chairs with no writing surface for the enrollees. No writing surface! For a writing workshop!
Still another issue was food and beverages. Often these classes were all-day workshops, held in weird rented spaces in industrial buildings in Chicago and Los Angeles, without a restaurant or take-out place in sight. One time the only option for water was to cup your hands under the bathroom faucet. Another time there was a big bowl of potato chips on the counter in the kitchen area, but that was it, just a bowl of disgusting potato chips fingered by a few dozen different people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I loved seeing all that room for improvement, because I planned to make those improvements myself when I offered my own classes. I didn’t want my paying enrollees to have to wonder where to eat during the lunch break, or worry about having to remember to bring food themselves. I mean, if you’re asking someone to spend the whole damn day with you, the least you can do is make sure they’re well-situated when it comes to food and drinks.
During all this I’d consult with my best friend and soon-to-be-exposed-bionic-piece-of-shit Grant Henry (that’s right, I haven’t forgotten about you, motherfucker). By this time Grant lived across the hall from me a the Telephone Factory (later he’d move into the loft I myself used to occupy). It was in this exact spot that we had first conspired to launch the “Sister Louisa” character Grant would later hijack, coat with ass batter and then deep fry in the worst way as a means of presenting himself as a pied piper to all that is hip in the city of Atlanta. But more (oh, so much more!) on that later.
At the time Grant was just a cocktail jockey at the Local, a bar that is today considered a zygote of the city’s delusional hipster identity. He was popular for whipping his drunk customers into a bi-curious frenzy close to closing time, encouraging straight guys to whip out their dicks to be ogled and fondled by other guys, and girls to tongue each other as he loomed over them, evil-carnival-clown-style. “Live authentically,” he’d bloviate, and because drunk people did things they normally would never have done under his alcohol-pimping auspice, it was easier for them to think they were being “authentic” rather than admit they were being manipulated by a perverted fucking asshole.
I mean, the similarities between Grant Henry and the televangelists he worshipped in seminary school are astounding if you think about it. Only Grant’s religion was anti-religion – which was still a religion, people. Make no mistake. It required idolization, regular tithing and the indoctrination of new recruits. If Grant found you lacking in any of these three categories, you were shunned as a nonbeliever. God forbid if Grant served you a drink and you did not tip him to his satisfaction. At best he’d refuse to serve you ever again (“I work for tips. If you don’t tip, I don’t for work”), at worst he’d literally drive you out of the place with a baseball bat.
During this time Grant was regularly voted “Best Bartender in the City” by Creative Loafing, the alternative newspaper where my column appeared. At the time, Creative Loafing was the fourth largest alternative publication in the nation. It actually had some chops, journalism-wise, but those chops were about to be severely interrupted thanks to the impending “collapse of the print industry.” Anyway, even back then, when journalism was an actual thing, these annual “best of” proclamations were laughably easy to manipulate. Seriously, I hate to break it to the five people left in the world who still think the “best of” bullshit dished out by local publications really mean anything, but they don’t mean anything. The whole concept was an advertising-revenue windfall created by some genius to give account managers a means to shake down local businesses for advertising accounts. “Look! Our readers voted you ‘Best Dry Cleaners!’ Sign here to pay out the ass for ad space when the ‘Best Of’ issue comes out!”
But then there were the people like Grant Henry, who knew unequivocally that the “Best Of” bullshit was bullshit, because I told him so myself. I lived right across the hall from him while I myself used to have to write the godawful content for Creative Loafing for the millions of ridiculous categories in which these businesses won. Categories like “Best French Fries,” and “Best Biscuit,” and “Best Tune-Up Service” and “Best Fucking I-Swear-to-God-I-am-Not-Making-This-Up Goddam Furniture Upholsterer.”
Oh my God, it was the worst freelance job I ever accepted. Each “best of” award required like a 150-word minimum. Like I seriously had to write at least 150 words on the best fucking onion ring in the city of fucking Atlanta. Where do you go with that shit? (“ . . . with a crunch as light and crisp as a breath of early Fall air . . . “) And there were hundreds of these soul-raping categories: Best Insect Exterminator, Best Kitchen Counter Installer, Best Chicken Wing, Best Brazilian Wax, Best Poodle Groomer, Best Pool Cleaning Service. I wanted to gauge my eyes out with a grapefruit spoon. If you don’t think this makes miserable work, you try writing 150 words about Atlanta’s Best Umbrella Manufacturer or whatever. You won’t get to word six before you fall on the floor and beg someone to stab you in the jugular.
And do you want to know the worst-or-best part (depending on how you look at it)? In my personal experience that I saw with my own eyes and have no reason to think is any different today, a good shit ton of those categories never got a single vote, so the designation was decided on-the-fly by whoever was in the room at the time. Whichever grill joint got “Best Veggie Burger” of 1996, you’re welcome, because you have me to thank for it. What’s worse-or-better (depending on how you look at it) is that many of these categories had just one single vote (Best Chiropractor, anyone?), which had been cast by the proprietor of the very establishment. Believe me, considering all the categories that had no vote, a single vote was a landslide win as far as we were concerned. You would not believe how little it took to win one of these categories – and you might think this was not fair, and it wouldn’t have been if this were journalism, but this was not journalism. This was just a long, exhaustive tsunami of word shit to shake down local businesses for ad revenue.
And don’t tell me I was lucky to have the work. No one is lucky to have this work. It paid a whopping $500 for about 35,000 words of material, that’s half the size of a conventional novel. So if you’re a writer and you have this work, you’re not lucky, you’re stupid. You’re a stupid fucking idiot to slave away writing meaningless ad copy for a newspaper that doesn’t give a single moldy shit about you. And you’re doubly dumb if, as I did, you had a perfectly viable side job that covered all your needs. Because if that’s the case, why in the holy fucking hell are you wasting your time on this ridiculous endeavor if you don’t need the money, for chrissakes? And don’t for a second think you’re making “inroads in the industry” by lowering yourself to this crap. All you’re telling your editors is that you’re an easily manipulated asswipe who will slave ridiculously over soul-sapping copy for practically no pay. Because who do you think they will think of the next time they have a basket of shit that needs to be shined? Do you think the great job you did shining that shit the last time will save you from doing it this time around? No, you idiot, you are now the shit shiner, that is your job.
Because you teach people how to treat you. So do yourself a favor and say no. Author Elizabeth Gilbert makes a good point when she says your creativity shouldn’t have to be burdened with being the source of your livelihood. Get some other job, let that job bear the burden of keeping you above water.
Anyway, back to the Telephone Factory Lofts. Grant lived across the hall from me while I was learning to say no to this shit. I actually had an epiphany in that I realized I was a good writer, and whatever I wrote about would garner more work in that vein. So the more bullshit I wrote about Atlanta’s Best Plumber or Atlanta’s Best Bricklayer or Atlanta’s Best Colonic (Mechanical or Hand-Administered), the more I was attracting crappy work like that my way.
It was just logical. What you put out is what you get back. Let’s say you want to be an opera singer, but you spend all your time at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor singing Happy Birthday to 10-year-olds. I mean, you’re probably gonna do a good job and be popular and get a lot of people requesting that you perform at their table. But all you’re getting is attention for doing something you hate, and it becomes a self-generating cycle, because you think your livelihood depends on it, and anyway this work is kind of in the vein of the industry where you aspire to make your mark, right?
Wrong. You’re better off to shut that shit down, work at a hardware store or something, and sing opera on the street corner for coins. When it comes to your talents, be careful about how you choose to regularly display them. Me? I wanted to be a humor columnist, and here I was writing about the best car wash in Atlanta.
So I shut that shit down.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the next and final installment of this book preview (before I finish it and pack it off to the publisher), in which I tell you about how Grant Henry (that’s right, I still haven’t forgotten about you, motherfucker) became “Atlanta’s Best Bartender” a bunch of fucking years in a row, then the proprietor of Atlanta’s best bar, then the biggest piece of shit on the planet (it seems to me). So stay tuned! In the meantime, yes I am going there, below is a button you can use to tip me if you liked this installment. All proceeds will go to the publishing of this book and/or my evil plan to take over the world. THANK YOU!