Los Angeles, CA
It was early, too early for a Monday morning.
I sat at the end of the counter of the coffeeshop. I was third from the far end in front of the TV. The old smelly guys sat on two of the first three stools, with an empty stool between the two. A trio of cops sat in a booth in between us. They were plain clothes and I couldn't tell if they were at the end of their shift or just beginning. I slid into my spot at the counter and minded my own business -- that business being a book about rock journalism that I found at a used bookstore. For the mere price of $2, The Sound and the Fury: 40 Years of Classic Rock Journalism was one of the best literary steals I had gotten this year because the anthology of articles included a few gems on Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, and Bob Dylan, not to mention stunning pieces on Altamont and the Monterrey Pop Festival.
I conducted a little background research on a couple of the scribes included in the compendium of rock and roll literature. That's how I stumbled upon a website that included links and copies of different articles on particular scribe had written spanning thirty years as a journalist and manager -- covering both music and mainstream events. Most of the time when it comes to reading about the subject of music, I'm seeking out articles about specific bands, jazz musicians, or musical genres. In this instance, the writer I had stumbled upon was so skilled that I became a quick admirer of his work. I never knew he existed prior to today and developed an odd fascination of his opinions on subjects that included musical acts whom I don't particularly like or have listened to extensively. That's was a reminder that the secret to being a good writer is to tell a compelling story. If you can e an effective storyteller, then the audience will want to read almost any subject you write about.
I happily returned to a phase in which I'm reading books at a voracious pace. I pulled a few books out of a former pile of unfinished books, sort of a rescue mission. I vowed to finish at least two books that I began earlier this year but for some reason or another, I was unable to finish up. In the end, if the book or author is fascinating, I'll read it cover to cover, and unable to put it down from the moment that I opened up the book. Sometimes, books and I don't mesh and it just doesn't work out or I don't have enough time to read a mediocre book, or a more interesting book presents itself and I get lost in that book instead. Other times, I simply give up on the writer or the subject material. I must have started hundreds of books, probably in the thousands, that I never finished and will never open up ever again. Every once in a while, I'll give a book/author a second chance -- usually out of lack of reading material or because someone I know thought very highly of it. Michael Chabon's books often fit that genre for me and end up in the "started and re-started, but never finished pile." I've given him more chances that I usually give for an individual writer. He reminds me of the band Mars Volta. All of my friends raved about that band for a year or so, and I wanted to give them a shot and caught them at a few festivals and I always wondered what was wrong with those interactions because their music didn't resonate with me. That's when I realized that sometimes you can't force the issue on abstract things like food, music, art, and literature. We didn't hit it off. That happens.
Upon my return to LA, I rescued two books from a pile that I probably would have forgotten about in a few months. Those were books in my former "To Read" pile prior to moving to Las Vegas at the end of May. Those abandoned books sat in the same spot and collected dust while I left for the summer. Now that I have more free time and actively seeking to expand my brain power (by not numbing it from all the garbage on TV that I am unable to turn away from like Hoarders and anything on the Military Channel or History Channel that involves Nazis), I want to jump into books again and allow my brain to marinate in words instead of watching douchenozzles in wifebeaters trying to bang spray-tanned chicks. I have to see that gauche behavior whenever I'm in Las Vegas for work, why on Earth would I want to spend my free time doing that in my own home? Books are my salvation.
The books that are lucky enough to be labeled as a re-start are tossed into a new pile -- the current "To Read" pile, which includes a book that Nicky finished from Steig Larrson. It's funny, all of the Scandis that I know in poker are total degenerate gamblers and/or major drunks and/or potheads. I only know one Scandi, my friend Sigge from Norway, who is not a degen gambler. He's a writer and musician and might be a pothead if he had better access to the finest herbs in the world. Aside from Sigge, Steig Larrson is the only other contemporary Scandi writer that is on my radar. He's an exquisite storyteller and I hope to learn a few things from him. Benjo left behind Bret Easton Ellis' novel Imperial Bedrooms for Nicky and I to read. It is a follow up to Ellis' Less Than Zero. It's super short and more a novella than anything else about the original characters twenty years later. I'm waiting for that to be made into a really bad movie.
My "To Read" pile is getting even higher and higher because I purchased three new books (including Mesopotamia the latest from my favrite NYC scribe Arthur Nersian) in the last 24 hours -- all of them used and I'm positive I could find two worthy recipients to give two of the three books away. I'm hoping to finish one or two before those arrive. Regardless, I'm excited.
Books are everywhere, and you can even read them for free in bookstores if you can't get to a library. But it's takes dedication and a willingness to use your imagination in order to get through one book, let alone four or five in a single week. Books are a journey and not everyone has the time or patience to do so. Reducing the amount of TV and the internet certainly helps the literary cause. Not driving also helps. People in LA would read more books if they weren't so vain, shallow, and uneducated. Because the denizens of LA drive everywhere, they can't physically read on the road. Driving and yapping on a cell phone is tough enough.
NYC is a different beasts when it comes to books. Shit, an entire subculture of used book sellers exist who set up shop on random corners and streets, when they are not being run off by overzealous cops. Books are a common sight in the city. I always see at least one or two people per crowded subway car with a non-Bible in their hands.
I travel 250 days out of the year and airports are one of the few places where I actively see Americans buying books and reading them while waiting for their flights at the gate or even on the plane. More people would read books if the Internet had no evolved past the dial-up connection phase or if we returned to the TV of my youth when there were only three major networks and seven stations in total. Since there's an abundance of distractions in different forms of entertainment (not to mention the highly addictive nature of social media), books often get tossed aside. I don't buy this bullshit that e-books are creating or adding new readers to the marketplace. Once a reader, always a reader. If anything, more tech-savvy book worms are purchasing books on their new toy du jour, more as a means to fulfill the coolness of said device, rather than to help the advancement of literature.
Speaking of e-books, I finally popped my cherry and purchased my first one. My buddy John Hartness self-published a novel and I was curious about his e-book version, mainly because I'm supposed to launch an e-version of Lost Vegas in a few weeks. I'll buy a hard copy of his book at a later date because I support my writer friends and recently began a collection of signed books from authors that I know. Anyway, check out The Chosen if you're looking for something different to read. I breezed through the first forty pages before my eyes started to bother me. Ah, one of the drawbacks on the e-book.
Sorry for the tangent... alas, I was supposed to tell you about my Monday morning, so, moving on...
I was sitting at the counter of the coffeeshop a few minutes past opening time at 6:15am or so on a Monday morning. I had been up writing for a good hour when I decided that I needed fuel to write more. I grabbed a book and headed to the coffeeshop. I was halfway through my bacon and eggs when someone sat down in the last seat at the counter. He was unshaven and wearing a faded bar t-shirt and green sweat pants. He was a good four or five years older than me and carried a Macbook. It took me three seconds to tell me that he was a writer. He put in his order and then groaned at the TV. I had ignored it since my arrival and more interested in my book, but I finally looked up at the TV to see what he was groaning about. One of the dudes from the Jersey Shore was standing on a red carpet as paparazzi flights flashed. He was shirtless and flexing for the cameras while the words "$5 million in earnings this year" flashed on the screen.
$5 million? I groaned too.
I had never met the writer sitting two stools to my left. He could be a shitty writer for all I know, but he's gotta be 1,000 times smarter than anyone on that reality show. Any writer I know will gladly accept $50,000/year as a guaranteed salary, let alone $500,000 or even $5 million. I don't know too many writers who make $5 million a year. None actually. Even the top screenwriters would be lucky to earn couple of million and they are either Academy Award winners or penning a sequel. Maybe Stephen King or the chick who writes the Harry Potter books rake in millions, but most writers are lucky to make a few hundred dollars a week -- if they can actually get their clients to pay them on time. I have at least so much money owed to me that I could purchase an used Acrua with all the outstanding monies that is owed to me by delinquent clients -- a couple of magazines or websites who stiffed me over the years. The only thing I can do is warn other writers not to fall for their false promises. I've yet to actually run across any of those people in a dark alley, but if I do, someone is getting kicked in the nuts.
The undercover cops finished their breakfast and left. I finished my breakfast and an article about Nirvana before I paid my tab and walked outside. The late summer sun was out and beginning to blaze but the streets were still on the empty side, save for a few delivery trucks and the random bus that zoomed by. In less than an hour, the intersection would be packed with cars heading to/fro the freeway as people commuted to work in their vehicles. I hate driving in LA during the daylight, but the 6am hour is the best time to run errands in my neighborhood before everyone wakes up and clogs the grid.
I'm getting used to this waking up early to write phase. It's good for my soul and makes me feel more productive. Heck if I'm pecking away at the keyboard by 5am, I know it's going to be a good day. After breakfast, a short morning walk, and running a few errands, I can be done with essential work by 9am and caught up with emails and other bullshit by noon. Shit, by lunchtime, I've already put in a full day and I have an entire afternoon free to myself -- which has been dedicated to reading and reading and sometimes itching my jones for Angry Birds or hanging out with my girlfriend. Sometimes it seems so easy to work on a simple schedule, while other times this year, I desperately struggled to find ten minutes to wipe my ass while bogged down in a hectic rudderless day with more things to do than hours in the day allowed me.
For now, I welcome the ease of the "wake up early and get your shit done by noon" philosophy. Just how long can I keep it up is the question?