Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Like a Grand and Miraculous Spaceship


This could be an in-depth look at tattooing, about what it means to me and how it feels and how the agony folds into ecstasy and then back again. I could talk about how sexy Kelly the Wonder Tattoist is, or how talented, or how his shading techniques are pretty damn near legendary around these parts. I could tell you about the planning stages, which took much longer than normal, or the actual sitting, which took close to two hours.

Don't mess with Texas.

I could also tell you all about how my tattoo was so complex and so detailed that it is the first to require a second session, meaning that the brand new ink I’m carrying around right now is technically unfinished. Just when that second session is happening is a matter of a little debate, but it’s going to be sooner rather than later. After all, this thing has to be healed before late September.

But I’ve told you all that before: the euphoria, the pain, the process. It’s all been done. So instead, let’s just look at some kick-ass pictures taken with Mark's kick-ass camera at a work in progress that, I have every confidence, will turn out to be the best ink I’ve ever gotten.

Since the dawn of recorded time…

Kelly told me that geometry wasn't his strong suit. I begged to differ. Like, begged.

Two. Hours. My foot fell asleep twice.

Just the stenciling took over an hour. Weirdly, the stenciling didn't hurt as much as I'd feared, making me remember that the werewolf on the other leg didn't quite hurt as much either.

Then came the shading.

Kelly explained that he didn't much care for Disney. I gleaned that when he stated, "I hate Disney with such a passion I can taste it." He further explained it's because they treat their animators like crap, a notion I tried to dispel by explaining all about the shift in management. No one was listening to me. Mostly because I was explaining this through grunts and gasps and mewlings for help.

As the work stands now, it almost looks finished. Sort of like Epcot meets the Death Star. But it's damn impressive already - almost giddily impressive, especially since Kelly was unsure whether he could do it. When it's done ... you guys, this thing is going to be amazing. I honestly think this is going to eclipse my werewolf as the most technically amazing ink I have. And it might also be my favorite.

I'm going to stand under Spaceship Earth in September and I'm going to look up at it, feeling dwarfed by it as always, but also feeling at one with it. This is the first step in a grand journey, a way station toward owning a piece of magic I could only touch fleetingly before.

...And as our appetite for information and knowledge grew, the world began to shrink.

I think it fits well.


And here we come to it:

This is the finished product, kids. We wanted to leave a crescent-shaped wedge of the design open. With the lines and the shading branching out and the “sunset” shading on the right, Spaceship Earth looks more spherical and less like a disc. This, initially, is what I wanted the design to look like, but in Phase One, Kelly left a little too much open, so that it looked unfinished. Filling it in entirely would be a mistake, I think, because skin isn’t paper and making it look like the sphere it is would have been impossible. This is the first time I really asked for the impossible from Kelly; I think he did pretty damn good.

Looking at it close-up in the picture, I’m even more impressed. Kelly did almost all of this freehand, which stuns me. I love how the branches edge out from the facets to the left, and the gray shading gives the impression of depth. An unexpected plus: this really didn’t hurt. Almost at all. Apparently, this part of my leg is really okay with tiny, tiny needles prodding it into submission. Not only that, but Phase One healed remarkably easily, with little itching and almost no scabbing.

You guys, I am really pleased at how this turned out, and I can’t wait to see how it looks up against the real Spaceship Earth next month. I also can’t wait for my next ink, which may or may not happen before the end of the year. I’m getting two at once – I refuse to have thirteen on my skin – but what exactly they are and where exactly they’re going to go … well, you’ll just have to stay tuned.

Epcotattoo! Woo hoo!


When Kelly the Wonder Tattooist moved down to Dallas, I was a bit bereft. He’d done all my best pieces, from my Springsteen sneakers to my Steampunk Dr Pepper, and he’d even come back to town to do my Seger Eagle, still one of the actual badass tattoos I have. (My body is sort of a tapestry of cute and fun tattoos like Baloo and Tom Servo, and cool tattoos, like my werewolf and my aforementioned Steampunk Dr Pepper.) He’d recommended me to John, also at Chameleon, to do my ink back in Boston. John proved he cold do good work with my Cooley Bird – the Drive-By Truckers band symbol – and he proved he could do great work with my Hardy/Arbuckle comedy & tragedy concept.

When I came to him with the idea to expand my original Spaceship Earth tattoo, he took to it with aplomb. I loved Kelly’s original work – my favorite building in the world, standing monolithic midway down my leg – but as my body was getting more and more crowded with art, I was starting to realize I wanted some actual scenes. Nearly all of my work so far has been iconic, symbols of things I love summed up in a simple image. With Spaceship Earth, I had long thought that I wanted to add a monorail to it, and build it out as a thing actually of Epcot, of Disney World. Plus, I wanted to somehow capture the kinetic feel of the place, and maybe a sense of the rich history of it. I sent my ideas to John and he was down.

Oh, and here’s something that’s never happened. Every time I’ve gone to a tattoo artist – from my first few people to Kelly to everything with John previously, they’ve drawn up my concepts on paper and then applied them to my skin. That’s how it’s done. Except when I went in for my consult? John drew freehand on my leg. He literally brought out some markers and just drew on my leg. I watched, agape. And then he started injecting ink into my flesh with a million little needles and I didn’t watch for awhile.

My tolerance for tattoo pain hits its peak around two and a half hours; it’s then when I stop riding the rollercoaster of euphoria and agony and start just wishing it was over. We pushed my first session – outlining, some shading – to three hours, by which time I was wondering if the sweet release of death might be achievable with the implements around me. John released me, but not before scheduling my coloring appointment for after my next Disney trip. Meaning, if I was to assign sentience to a theme park, which I would never do because creepy, Epcot itself would only see the work three-quarters done when I was there. Would Epcot be pleased? And would I maybe read too much into the fact that the first day I was there with my tattoo and my friend Jeff, the ride inexplicably broke down and I had to be evacuated from it?

So many questions. Now, onward!


I never lived Epcot history. I have to revel at it from a remove of time, like those guys who do Civil War reenactments, or people obsessed with the Titanic. You all have my buddy Joe to thank for that. On my third trip to WDW, when I was starting to wrap my mind around the scope of Disney history, Joe showed me a video of the old Horizons ride, and I was hooked. The whole idea of classic Epcot had a massive appeal, in the same way that steampunk would – it’s retro-futurism, the history of the future as imagined in the past.

A lot of Epcot looks like it did in 1982, when it debuted, but there are changes, both major and subtle. To me, the most significant change is in the forecourt in front of Spaceship Earth. Right now, they have these granite slabs featuring faces of people who bought the right to be a part of Epcot back in the 1990s. I get the concept of them – they’re supposed to be a little stark and desolate, trying for beauty in simplicity – but back the 80s, the whole court was lined with palm trees and water and it was warmer and, in my opinion, more welcoming. That’s what I wanted for the ink. As much as I love current Epcot, I am in deep with vintage Epcot; well, EPCOT Center. I wanted palm trees.

I laid down. Shawn poised, ready to take pictures and Vines. John played “Thunder Road.” And got to work.

Another two hours later, I stood up and observed what had happened. I was blown away. Every step on this road to my Epcot ink has been exciting, each new session another building block toward something bigger. John created cartoonish “bubbles” on the top and the side, in case I wanted to continue the scene around my leg. Even before it healed, I knew I did want that: I wanted Space Mountain next, continuing around the side of my leg and connected by the monorail. And maybe, sometime later, the Tower of Terror – even though in real life, the monorail goes nowhere near there.

Walt Disney once said that Disneyland (and, by extension, Disney World) would never be finished. Not to be too grandiose about it, but I like to think that in some small way, I can apply that philosophy to my right leg. It’s a future we’ll take – and make – together.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dream Baby Dream

Let’s keep this light. Sorta.

So, 2005 sucked. Yes, the whole year. There was a seismic shift in my friendships. A combination of a stupid argument and my stubbornness resulted in nearly all of my friends dropping out of my life, one by one. I hermited. I retreated. I listened to American Idiot and Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut and hated everyone and everything, including myself.

See, light?

Shawn was there for me as much as he could be, but when I tell you things got sad, I mean, man, they got sad. I mentioned the obsession with American Idiot. Therapy ended up helping. Writing helped, too – I did my first NaNoWriMo novel in 2005; it was called Welcome to Bloomsbury and it wasn’t bad. But, as usual, my beloved pop culture was what really saved me. In 2005, John Irving published a book called Until I Find You, and Bruce Springsteen put out an album called Devils & Dust.

I fell into both with fervor. Devils & Dust turned out to not be Springsteen’s best album, but it was absolutely the one I needed at the time. The title song went a long way toward waking me up: I got God on my side / and I’m just trying to survive / what if what you do to survive kills the things you love / fear’s a powerful thing. Yep. Yep.

Irving’s newest book was, among the usual tropes of wrestling and Vienna and sexually interesting older women, about tattooing. I’d gotten three tattoos by that point: my bear claw, my The Stand silhouette, my Daredevil DD icon. But it had been awhile and I hadn’t really considered getting more. But falling into the exotic tattoo shops in the book, living with the inkers and the inkees, sleeping in the needles … all of it thrilled me. What thrilled me more was that, during the research of the book, John Irving had gotten a tattoo of his own, on the inside of his arm. His was a circular symbol representing a wrestling room, and while the symbol meant nothing, I loved the shape and the placement. I knew then I wanted a new tattoo and I wanted it to mean something. It didn’t take me long to realize I wanted something Springsteen-related, and after some research, I found what I wanted: a circle with an image of the Chuck Taylor sneakers hanging from the Boss’ guitar on the Born to Run press materials. Boom, perfect.

After a series of misfortunes involving a short-lived shop called Mongo’s Tattoo Madness, I ended up at Chameleon, where I met Kelly Barr, the eventual beefy and resplendent Wonder Tattooist. He slapped that thing on me good and proper, kickstarting my recent obsession with body art and helping to lift my depression, just a bit.

See, it all fit, these things that were working to cheer me. Inspired by Irving, shaped by Springsteen, injected by Barr. I had my tattoo when I went to my next Springsteen concert, the acoustic one for the Devils & Dust tour. He played all the instruments himself, went through his entire catalogue, radically changed some stuff, brought to life some stuff that suffered under overproduction, and let his solo stuff out to shine. Interestingly, his closing number each night was not his own song; it was a proto-punk chant-song by the band Suicide called “Dream Baby Dream.” At the end of each show, Springsteen would sit down at the pedal-powered organ to the left of the stage and launch into the extraordinarily simple song, which consisted of a few simple lines repeated over and over:

“Dream baby dream / dream baby dream / come on now and dream baby dream / open up your eyes / come on and open up your eyes / keep the fire burning / come on and dream baby dream / open up your arms / come on and open up your arms / I wanna see you smile / I just wanna see you smile / come on and dream baby dream / dry your eyes / come on and dry your eyes / you gotta keep on dreaming / come on and dream baby dream / I wanna see you smile / I just wanna see you smile / I wanna see you smile / I just wanna see you smile.

I spent a lot of 2005 unhappy, and something about this – maybe it was the simplicity of it, the intimacy of the concert with one of my heroes, the mantra-like nature – sunk in. “I wanna see you smile, I just wanna see you smile,” and oh God, did I need to hear that. I stole the line and put it in my next book, but I could never approximate what it meant to me. I could never underscore how vital those words were.

So I kept myself alive, got back to happy, and kept on dreaming. Flash forward to now. Over the past few of weeks, I directed two sold out comedy shows, directed my team in ensemble show that also sold, booked us for a gig in another city, launched the production for my big September show, submitted to the New York Sketch Festival, and took a class in directing. My editor told me he loved I’m On Fire. One of my nonfiction books is coming out next month, as is a book featuring one of my short stories – my first print fiction ever published. I got paid for another nonfiction book. I finished my first novel since 2009, placed a labor-of-love article at FEARnet, and got mentioned by name on Ain’t It Cool News. August has been good to me. I wanted to honor that.

The cover illustration of Until I Find You is a broken heart with the title of the novel written in script across a floating ribbon. I asked Shawn if I could get a variation of it, “but with an unbroken heart.”


“On my chest,” I said. “Near my heart.” He’s been consistently against chest tattoos.

He contemplated. “The heart will be unbroken?”

“Absolutely. This is a celebration, not a lament.”

“All right then, you can get it.”

I got to Chameleon early. A lot has changed since the first time I went there. Kelly moved back to Texas and now John Meredith is my at-home inkslinger. John always plays me at least some Springsteen when I get inked, as opposed to the psychobilly Kelly favored. I became a comedy producer and director and writer and sometime actor. I went from four tattoos to twenty-two. I’m not sad anymore. That’s the big thing: I was so sad for so long, and I’m not sad anymore. I’ve worked hard. I’ve thrown myself into my accomplishments. And I’ve kept on dreaming. It took years of ambition, drive, and caffeine, but my dreams are finally coming true.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ender Wiggin Will Save Us All

I am having some complicated feelings.

When some of my gay friends decided to keep eating Chik-Fil-A, I was outraged. "But it's so good," they said, and I rolled my eyes. They are giving money to a corporation who actively supports anti-gay hate groups. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just chicken.

Now here comes the Ender’s Game movie. I won’t deny it: I went through an Orson Scott Card phase so intense that it rivaled my love of Stephen King for a few years. Ender’s Game was the start of all that. The first four books of the Ender series shifted my way of thinking about what heroism means, and how people are sometimes at the mercy of their compulsions, and how it was important to tolerate the parts of other cultures that seem weird to me. Yeah: Speaker for the Dead, the second book in the series, is specifically about being tolerant and accepting of other societies you don’t understand.

I read a lot of it. Lost Boys, Card’s only real horror novel at the time, gave me a glimpse into the world of Mormonism, and his depictions made it seem interesting and supportive (a view which grew when I read Ken Jennings’ Brainiac years later). I read Lovelock, the intermittently fantastic Homecoming saga, and the balls-out mindblowing Alvin Maker books. I read criticism about him. I formed opinions of his work. I loved him.

Then I read something in an obscure magazine that talked about his time in the theater. He said (and I’m paraphrasing), “I’m fine if my theater friends want to be gay. I don’t hate them, I just hate that they do that. Being gay and acting on it are different things.”

I was outraged. At the time, I was probably twenty. I went to Pride every year, and I told my friends who didn’t that they were betraying the community. Ellen had recently come out on TV. I’d been out since I was sixteen and I was still fired up about it. The early 1990s were a historically significant time to be gay. Things were shifting, and I was disappointed that one of my favorite writers wasn’t shifting with them. Of course, the accusation of homophobia had been labeled against my favorite human in the world, Stephen King, but there had been enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that King didn’t hate gay people at all. This was solidified when he moved the production of The Stand miniseries out of Colorado when they banned gay marriage; his daughter coming out likely had something to do with it.

Back on Card: from that point on, I was determined that I had to separate the art from the artist. I bought his books used. I had people dub me his audiobooks. Then came a book called Legends, which was comprised of novellas set in the worlds created by famous fantasy writers. There was a Pern story by Anne McCaffrey, a George R. R. Martin Game of Thrones story, a Stephen King Dark Tower story (which is why I bought it), and an Alvin Maker story, by Card. I read it … and was profoundly sad.

I could separate art from artist, but apparently Card couldn’t. In the middle of this fun story about Paul Bunyan, Alvin Maker literally makes a speech about why male/male sexuality is wrong. A speech. It’s out of context with the story and the character, and clearly feels like the author stopping the fiction to espouse his rhetoric. Shawn, my guy, later read further than I did in the Ender series, and told me the speeches didn’t stop there. He actually got so disgusted by one of them that he stopped reading Card, forever.

And so did I. I’ve tried to separate art from artist. I know there’s a more direct sequel to Ender’s Game out there, and as badly as I want to read it, I don’t want to suddenly find out that Ender Wiggin, who was a hero to me in my twenties, is behaving erratically because his author is fucking with him. Making things worse is that Card became something of a poster child for anti-gay marriage, speaking out about it publicly and vehemently. And when DOMA got shut down, he was a super sore loser about it.

There’s a lot of stuff at play here. I find that I’m able, in general, to continue to love a singular work of art, no matter what happens later. Sequels, prequels, adaptations, shifting perceptions, an author’s later output – none of it matters to me if I like the original work. You don’t retroactively hate Pulp Fiction because Death Proof wasn’t A+ work. No matter what happens in Doctor Sleep, I’m still going to think The Shining is one of the best books ever written.

But this is different. Right? Or, better: it has the potential to be different. Because it’s not just crappy work that hinges itself to better work. It’s the author discovering a political/sexual agenda, and then forcing his characters to support and voice that agenda. His nonfiction has mixed into the fiction, and that’s the problem I have. And when he goes back to writes stuff in the world of the fiction I love with this new agenda, that’s an even bigger problem. An awful movie adaptation can’t ruin the book on which it’s based. It can color your perceptions, but it can’t ruin the work. What Card started doing can ruin the work. And that sucks, because it’s still amazing work.

So. The movie. The movie I wanted to see more than anything else in my bleak year of 1994, when I was hungry a lot and lived in a rooming house where junkies and the elderly died. The Ender’s Game books buoyed me up during that time and made me happy at a time I desperately needed happiness. And I wanted to see that spectacle on the big screen. So bad.

The film’s distributors, Lionsgate, are doing everything to distance Card from the movie. They released a statement saying that they do not share Card’s views on gay marriage (or, as my friends refer to it, “marriage.”) Lionsgate touted recent movies they released that focused on gay-positive messages, and they’re doing a benefit premiere for the LGBT community. I know it’s all about marketing and saving face, but I still think it’s the right move. Some people have called what they’re doing “pandering,” but if they didn’t do anything, those same people would say they were supporting Card implicitly. I suppose the only way to “win” an argument like this is to just not have made the movie … but I’m glad they did.

Look, I’m going to the movie. I will try to sneak in or see it for free, but that’s going to be the extent of my political involvement. What I find weird and disturbing is that a lot of my friends who still frequent Chik-Fil-A are all up in arms over this film and telling me that my wanting to see it is a violation of my basic rights. What they’re saying is that directly handing money over to people who support hate groups is less offensive than seeing a movie that will eventually partially benefit a koo-koo writer who doesn’t like that I like dudes, and that the company making said movie is going out of their way to make sure they love the gays. It’s homophobia in both cases, and none of it’s good, but it’s also bad math.

I’m going to the movie because the book was a bright spot in a really bad time of my life. I’m going because the author betrayed me, but the book didn’t. I’m going because I want to see Harrison Ford be cool on screen again.

I’m going because it’s not chicken.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Don't Panic!

If there’s anything in your life that makes you fondly recall hauling redolent, rank bales of trash into huge subterranean dumpsters, scoop up that something and carry it in a bushel basket. During my second iteration as a B. Dalton employee – the one where I was an actual, contributing member of the staff and not just the guy who lazed around all day and paid fealty to the Stephen King section in the guise of organization – I was Trash Guy. Well, one of them. At least twice a week, it would be my duty to gather up all the trash and the recycling in the store and stack it in big canvas bins on wheels, and drag it down to the mall’s basement. Our dumpsters were near the ones for the food court, so my trips, especially in the summer, were accompanied by the mephitic aroma of bourbon chicken and tacos and sub meat all tossed together and rotting in the heat.

My saving grace was audiobooks. I’d discovered them on my first go-round working at the mall, where I held down three separate jobs because it was better than going home to the rooming house, what with all the junkies and old men dying and such. I had a Dashiell Hammett young adulthood, but instead of making the mistake of sleeping with incongruously hot dames, I made the mistake of sleeping with one of my stalkers. He had webbed toes and seven cats. I did a lot of living in my late teens.

Anyhow, my audiobook thing started because this was before I discovered Bruce Springsteen, and I needed something to occupy me on the bus to and from work. The bus ride was always long and always horrible and never came at opportune times, so I did my best to maximize my fun. I spent a lot of my time at the Quincy Public Library, and at some point I realized that there was an all new way to love Stephen King. So of course I jumped. I had a Walkman and with it, I could do anything. Except listen to CDs, but that was ok because they’d probably never make a portable CD player I could afford, right? Right? (1993, people. There wasn’t even an Internet yet.)

I went through my Stephen King trove pretty quickly, and then I went foraging. I know I listened to some Robert Parker. Then one afternoon, under the concerned gaze of the librarians who worried about how much time I spent there, I went alphabetical, and that’s where I found it. Adams. Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Interestingly enough, this was not my first encounter with Hitchhiker’s Guide. Indeed, when I was young and disastrously poor, occasionally my Mom or my Dad would take us to visit their rich friends. Rich friends were those who could afford more than twenty videocassettes. (One of my aunts had laserdiscs. That was a level of rich I couldn’t even comprehend, like Margot on Punky Brewster.) One of the rich friends had a computer, and let me play with it. One of his games was Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and at the time (was I seven? Eight?) I couldn’t wrap my mind around text-based adventure games. A few years later, when Mulcahey Middle school introduced a computer class (!), I got reacquainted with my old nemesis. Amidst all the learning games like Odell Lake and Oregon Trail, I did my best to master Hitchhiker’s Guide. I generally got as far as learning the word “analgesic.”

Still, it was one of the first instances of recurrence in my life. I’m not sure if this happens to everyone, but occasionally, there are things in my life that seem to want to be noticed and appreciated. Stuff that seems interesting, but hangs out in the background until I’m ready to “discover” it. I went through several minor phases with comics until I met Shawn and he made me a convert. I liked a lot of Springsteen songs before I realized they were all by one guy. Stuff like that. In hindsight, patterns emerge. When I found that audiobook, my first thought was, “Wow, there’s a book, too?” I was young, guys.

I blasted through The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and Life, the Universe, and Everything in days. They were read by Douglas Adams himself, and I thought that was so cool. I tell people I’m not into British comedy, but this was evidence against that. I loved Adams’ wry way of reading, and I found myself laughing out loud at stuff about towels and whales and fjords. (Speaking of recurrence: I had a preschool teacher who was obsessed with sci-fi and fantasy; after I graduated to kindergarten, she and my Mom remained friends and she would come over sometimes and read the Narnia books to me. Sometimes, we’d go to her house, and I remember she had a stack of to-read books, and on the top was So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. Patterns, seriously.)

In the days before Wikipedia, we got knowledge more slowly, so I didn’t even know there was a BBC miniseries for years. Maybe Tracey told me. Back then, she was nerdier than me, by which I mean she liked both Star Trek and Star Wars, and I was Trek only. She also had swords. Anyhow, by the time I found out about the miniseries, I was living in my studio apartment down the road from the rooming house, and I had an actual Blockbuster card. Things were pretty sweet by the time I turned 21. One of the coolest things about the miniseries was the cover of the actual Hitchhiker’s Guide, because it had the words “DON’T PANIC!” in large, friendly letters on the cover. I loved the font.

Recurrence: years later, I discovered that my friend Kenny – who is the master of most things uber-geeky – was deep, deep into Hitchhiker’s Guide. He furnished me with a track from the original radio series called “Marvin, I Love You.” It’s one of the best songs sung about or for a gloomy robot. I’m listening to it right now, and it’s just the best. It makes me miss Kenny, and happy that I know him.

The Internet exists now, of course, and of all the lunatic nerd-things that people get into, Hitchhiker’s Guide is one of the most pervasive. Of course, some of my other nerd interests are huge. I’m not sure that the Internet could exist without Star Trek, and Mario games are huge, and my love of MST3K is large enough and the fandom is niche enough for it to actually give me some nerd cred.

But Hitchhiker’s Guide? I mean, it’s geeky, it’s huge but small, and it’s British. I mean, this makes up for me not getting into Doctor Who, right? Maybe?

When I heard Kelly the Wonder Tattooer, a really hoopy frood, was coming back into town, I knew that I needed something nerdy. Not Disney nerdy, though because that’s not Kelly’s bag. He’d loved doing my Tom Servo, and he ... I remember him liking my Trek badge. And oh my God, was he all over my steampunk Dr Pepper. Hitchhiker’s Guide fit neatly into the camp of stuff I thought he’d like doing, but I absolutely did not want that planet with the tongue sticking out that’s on the covers of the books. (ImprovBoston’s old mascot, The Goon, also has a tongue sticking out, because that’s wacky! I got a giant leg piece of two fat, dead comedians just so I wouldn’t have to make The Goon my theater tattoo). Then it occurred to me: DON’T PANIC! Well, there’s a motto to live by. And a hidden “42,” because obviously.

I showed up today at noon and he positioned the stencil halfway between my Drive-By Truckers one (“It’s great to be alive” written beneath my Cooley bird) and my Tom Servo, a bridge between the profound and the highly geeky. I won’t go into the pain because it’s almost always the same: highs and lows and spikes of adrenaline. Shawn showed up right before and took videos and pictures and the whole thing was done in an hour. I have been assured that the letters are orange gradating into yellow, with some green highlights to make them pop. My colorblindness will prevent me from discerning all of that, because citrus colors are my weakness. Basically, I did this for y’all.

And now: maxin and relaxin at home for awhile, because when I exert on days I get tattoos, badness happens and I cry. Of course, I did just write a 1.5K essay about my love of a British novel that’s probably shorter than this, which is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike relaxing. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go shower and wash this thing off. Now, where did I put my towel?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dennis Blunden Doesn’t Love Me

The first guy I ever fell in love with was a crazy person. No, I don’t mean “crazy,” like the fun kind of crazy like Bill Murray in What About Bob? or even the borderline-dark crazy of Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, when all she really needed was some makeup and a few meaningful glances from Emilio Estevez to snap out of it. No, my first love was clinically bipolar, afflicted with megalomania, and had a violent persecution complex. He was also straight. Let’s call him Eugene.

I met Eugene in high school and I should have known what I was getting myself into, but the sociological climate of the early 90s was working against me. Depression and vague rage were popular due to the advent of grunge music, and because I was in high school, all that stuff was heightened. It would be beautifully narrative if I could think of my falling for Eugene as a symbol of our turbulent times – he was a brooding, mysterious loner, just like the misunderstood geniuses you see in Cameron Crowe movies. And I was finally admitting to myself that I liked boys; figuring that out at sixteen in a high school world populated by slackers and overachievers and the heavily medicated might have made Eugene’s unique brand of lunacy appealing.

But mostly, it was the fact that he could grow a beard at seventeen. That, and those blue, blue eyes.

Of course, like most straight-guy crushes, it ended disastrously. After Eugene uncovered my intentions – via an ill-advised game of Truth or Dare, no less – he actually seemed curious. What followed was an even more ill advised sticky-fumble session, during which I realized that while I was giving inexpert head to the love of my life, he was having an experiment he was only half-heartedly into. Of course, this only meant that grunge suddenly made way more sense. That Pearl Jam song, “Black”? Totally written about me.

The lesson I should have learned is this: keep the straight guys untouchable. This had worked great during my nascent gay days when I lusted after celebrities before I knew what lust really was. Remember that 80’s show Head of the Class? The first guy I ever crushed on was the chubby guy who sat in the back row wearing flannel and Chuck Taylors and cracked jokes and had this hair I used to imagine running my hands through. Played by Dan Schneider, Dennis Blunden was the wellspring from which all my other attractions erupted. The hypothesis goes as such: Dennis’s penchant for flannel begat my attraction for Al Borland on Home Improvement, whose beard got me thinking about Riker from Star Trek, whose hairy chest turned me into the bear-crazy cub you see before you. Essentially, my lust is Darwinian; if not for Dan Schneider, this might be a column about how much I’m into the vapid clone scene. Fetch me a Diet Red Bull, Marco, I’m late for the foam party!

Sadly, me being me, I found a way to ruin my first crush, too. You know that song, “Centerfold,” where the girl the guy is into is lodged in his memory as this pristine high school angel until he later sees her in a porno magazine? My thing is like that, except for a sad lack of naked Dan Schneider. See, I happened to stumble across his Twitter feed (“stumble across” in this case means “actively seek out,” because I am occasionally a lunatic myself), and signed up at once, perhaps hoping for a string of insightful self-reflective tweets captured brilliantly in 140 characters or less. Instead? His Twitter is almost entirely a marketing gimmick pushing the TV show he’s currently writing. Completely understandable, entirely normal … and overwhelmingly disappointing. When you’ve traced back every crush, every lust, every love back to one individual – one fictional individual – you’re inevitably going to feel disillusioned when you realize he’s just a regular working Joe trying to make a buck.

For what it’s worth, though, I ended up running into Eugene again not too long ago. I found him at random, bumping into him at a camping-goods store in town, where he was then working. We went out for burritos, and maybe, yes, I did harbor some illusions that he’d gone gay somewhere along the way and would desperately want to make out with me. Alas: he was still straight, and seeing a girl, and startlingly sane. (And, I must mention, still bearded.) No sticky fumblings this time, just one of those conversations between guys who went to high school together. Near the end, he said to me, “I’m sorry if I fucked things up back then.”

Back in high school, our climaxes had been anticlimactic. I’d been waiting years for real release. Which goes to show, I guess, that sometimes even one-sided sociopathic first love has a happy ending.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hardy and Arbuckle


Writing Updates: My Agent of Chaos, 74, 509 / Stephen King Limited, 31, 757

What I’m Reading Now: Eight Million Ways to Die, by Lawrence Block

I’m a writer. That’s how I brand myself. That’s how I think of myself. I’ve written something like eighteen novels, six nonfiction books, two poetry collections, and two short-work collections. I write a monthly column for, and for about a dozen years, I regularly kept a journal about my comings and goings. I’ve been a writer all my life, because it’s what I always wanted to be, and I worked hard to get where I am.

Conversely, I kind of stumbled into the theater.

It doesn’t take much effort for me to be a superfan. My formative years were spent in the service of Stephen King. If you want to be a Stephen King superfan, it’s so easy to do. The prolificacy of his work and the work about him make it easy to get obsessed and stay obsessed, to quote John Irving. The King stuff served as a template of how to be Very Involved with the things I love. Other stuff followed: Springsteen, BNL, Drive-By Truckers, Seger, MST3K, Daredevil, Archie, Buffy, tattooing itself … and, of course, Disney. And the improv. Under everything, the improv.

I got into ImprovBoston in the early 2000s. Maybe 2000 itself. My friend Joy had moved up from Rhode Island and gotten involved with a troupe up here in Boston. They performed at IB and I went to see them and, gradually, started seeing everything. Just everything. I had a couple of Lost Weekend scenarios, substituting liquor for sweet, sweet comedy: I’d get out of work on Friday and head to the theater and stay there till it closed, and on Saturday I’d get up late and do some writing and do the theater until it was time to head out to Rocky Horror, and repeat the pattern on Sunday, when the shows started earlier. At one point, I remember, I spent my entire week’s salary at the theater. As a special incentive, they – very briefly – offered a lifetime membership for $350. I snagged it at once. It paid for itself in two months. It’s been thirteen years since then.

Fast forward to 2012, when, in February, the current producers of Sketchhaus offered to make me co-producer. I took it and took to it with aplomb. We started filling theater seats every week, and there’s nothing more gratifying to a creative person than seeing immediate results. In the summer, one of the theater’s most prolific actors, Sam Ike, asked me to help assemble an ad hoc troupe of performers plucked from other sketch troupes. I called it Sketch Avengers, and only in the third week of rehearsals did I realize I was the director. The show was popular, and because I’m a big fan of ambition, I created a show called World of Hurt, which was three different shows in three different comedy styles over the course of a month. In the meantime, I found time to do a smaller sketch troupe called Duct Tape Revolution, and we performed to a sold-out crowd in November. We did another show this past Thursday, which kicks off a whole 2 months of us doing a show every week. Three of those weeks are going to be in the main theater, the first time I’ve been on that stage with my clothes on.

I love the theater. I love this theater. And for a long time, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to symbolize that on a tattoo. There used to be an ImprovBoston mascot – The Goon – but I hated it, and didn’t want it on my body. The symbol for the comedy camp, Camprov, was awesome, and that weekend I spent up in Maine with improvisors was amazing … but it was a one-time thing, and didn’t really sum up my thoughts about comedy.

Then, last year, I read the Jerry Stahl fictional biography of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, I, Fatty, and the gears started turning.

Before the theater, I’d been into comedy my whole life, and I’ve long been fascinated by – I’m just going to say it – fat comedians. Stand-ups, SNL actors, sitcom stars, movie stars. John Belushi, John Goodman, Chris Farley, John Candy and on and on. There’s this whole archetype of fat funny people, stretching back to the Borscht Belt and Vaudeville and beyond. When I was in fifth grade, my English teacher would sometimes play us old radio shows, and I can still remember hearing “Who’s On First” for the first time. Then I saw a picture of Lou Costello and I fell a little bit in love. Same with Allan Sherman, who did “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” and whose song parody album, My Son, the Nut was the most popular album in the country for almost two weeks in 1963. Then I started catching Honeymooners reruns on TV and oh my God, Jackie Gleason.

And then, oh then, Laurel and Hardy. It always surprised me how they could seem sophisticated and slapstick all at once, how charming yet abrasive, and how funny they still were. Comedy always changes and it always stays the same. The fact that I can pull up YouTube and look into the past to see these two guys hit themselves in the face with boards or bicker with each other or, especially, try to say good-bye from an old jalopy for like twenty minutes … that’s fascinating to me. And Oliver Hardy is part of that whole archetype I remain both riveted by and, yes, attracted to: the funny fat guy, who is always, always more complex than his onstage or onscreen persona.

I started doing research, and here’s what hit me bigtime: despite a childhood trauma in which his brother drowned and a divorce or two, Oliver Hardy had led a fairly happy life. He got to make a bunch of movies with his best friend and he eventually married the woman of his dreams and they lived happily ever after. Whereas conversely, Roscoe Arbuckle (born only five years before Hardy) had a horribly abusive childhood, became an alcoholic during Prohibition, was haunted by a nickname he hated, and while he was at one time the highest paid actor in Hollywood, he was eventually accused of a killing a young prostitute – a crime he didn’t commit – and blacklisted. Though the charges were dropped and the jury actually apologized, Arbuckle was haunted by his reversal of fortunes the rest of his life, and died early.

You know that Kinks song, “Celluloid Heroes”? I’ve walked down Hollywood Boulevard and looked for Roscoe Arbuckle’s star, and Oliver Hardy’s star. They say celluloid heroes never feel any pain, but they do. Some more than others. How come Oliver Hardy lived such a relatively happy life, while Roscoe Arbuckle’s was beset with sorrows?

I thought on it, and thought on it, and sometimes there just aren’t answers.

But when I’d reached the end of my thinking, I had my tattoo idea. That’s something, at least.


I met with John two weeks ago. You remember John: affable, friendly, into comics. In Kelly the Wonder Tattooer’s absence, John became my go-to guy for my ink. His work on my Drive-By Truckers tattoo was top-notch and it had been relatively painless, but it had been smallish and a somewhat straightforward “icon” tattoo, like my Seger Eagle or my Springsteen or BNL pieces. My idea was weird and I wasn’t sure he’d be able to wrap his mind around it.

“Okay,” I told him, “I want Oliver Hardy as Comedy, and Roscoe Arbuckle as Tragedy, in sort of ovals.” I’m a writer, not a talker. I gave him one of Hardy’s iconic pictures, where he’s in the bowler hat and his hair sticking out from under is quite sincerely the sexiest thing in the whole world. I also gave him Arbuckle’s mug shot.

John looked at the pictures, looked at me, and there was something dancing in his eyes. “Oh, I can work with this.”

Yesterday, I hadn’t done anything more than step inside Chameleon Tattoo when John snatched me up and brought me into his studio. “I liked the frames around them, but then I had this idea from an old-timey picture where it could be black and then sort of fade around the portraits, so it looks a little sepia.” That’s when I first realized that, while this was my tattoo, John had taken ownership of it. There’s little more exciting in tattooing than when a tattoo artist gets super involved with it, like when Kelly did my Steampunk Dr Pepper. These are nutty ideas, and when someone is taken by them, that invariably leads to greatness.

“I trust you completely,” I told John. He smiled and I hopped up on his table and we got to work.

“You’ll notice I have four machines set up,” he said, sweeping his hand over them like the gun dealer in the hotel room in Taxi Driver. One for outlines, one for shading, one for close work, and then another one that I’m sure existed just to deliver maximum pain to the skin near my bone. “I love old-timey stuff. I could not stop thinking about this one.” Hooray unique ideas! Hooray enthusiasm!

Guys, I don’t need to go into the pain again. You know how it is. Glassy and horrible up near the bone. Dull and horrible by the meat of my calf. Not so bad and actually enjoyable on the side of my leg. I hit the euphoria a few times – once when John picked up on my hints and played “Thunder Road” for me – and a couple of times I thought I was at the end of my endurance. Then I sat up and watched him awhile, and I knew I couldn’t let it go until he was done. It was just too terrific.

“I had some ideas about filigrees,” he’d said at the start, and I didn’t even let him finish. “I love filigrees, yes, do that!” Now I was watching him put the finishing touches on the flourishes and the banners and the shading, and it hit me. This is number 20. As of right now, I have twenty tattoos: small and large, big and small, generic and unique. Some of them have deep stories attached to them, and some of them exist because they look cool. I got my first tattoo in 1999 – my bear claw – and since then I’ve had ups and towns, passions and quiet moments, new interests, new friends, new setbacks, new joys. And throughout all that time, I’ve gotten new ink.

It’s about the theater, and it’s about tattooing, and it’s about my life: twenty in, comedy and tragedy don’t just cover the inside of my left leg; they cover everything.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Disco Smash

Let me just take a second to share my gratitude in a reasonable, dignified manner:


Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to business.

The Now

My Kickstarter for my novel Roller Disco Saturday Night is now funded. It’s more than funded, actually. The final total is $5,683.52. My goal was $3,100, meaning we raised over $2,500 more than I was aiming for.

We did that. We. I’m just blown away.

The original goal for the money was to take a month off of one or two of my jobs, get some new writing hardware and software, and set to work to make Roller Disco Saturday Night the best novel it can be. All of that is still in place. I’ve already requested April off. At this point, I may actually be able to take a second month off (right now, I’m thinking July) and dedicate even more time and effort to finish this book by October – the month this novel will hopefully be complete.

I envision many late Friday and Saturday nights out in the city, hunched over my laptop, bringing this world of mid-1980s teenagers to life. It’s my big writer’s dream to do stuff like that – fighting through my insomnia and my own doubts, fueled by caffeine and drive, pounding out keys and getting out 10 pages in a sitting. It doesn’t always happen now because my life is so busy. I usually get out three pages a day if I’m writing fiction. It will be able to happen starting in April, and that’s because of your generosity and my indomitable ambition.

What Happens Next

I’ve got a bunch of writing to do.

Currently, I’m working on a novel called My Agent of Chaos. I didn’t plan for it to be a novel, but that’s how it worked out. I haven’t finished a brand-new novel in a couple years, in part because the two books I tried my hand at (Tangerine and American Storm) either fizzled or stopped working, and in part because I was up to my elbows in nonfiction. And I still am, at that. I’m very nearly finished with a book called Stephen King Limited, a revision and expansion of two chapterbooks I worked on last year for my publisher, and I’m contracted for a book on King’s Dark Tower mythos.

My Agent of Chaos will, hopefully, wrap up this month. I’m proud of it; almost all my novels are Watch Kev Work Through Shit experiments, and this one takes on a time of my life that I never really examined before. It’s dark, maybe, but good. I have never used an unreliable narrator before, and it’s been fun to try.

SKL will likely be done within a couple weeks. The Dark Tower book will be one I work on going forward, concurrently with Roller Disco Saturday Night. My plan is to do the nonfiction in the daytime, where I can nerd out with research and stuff. I’ll save my fiction for the night.

I also have promised a few things to my backers. The 10 people who became Major Backers will receive places in Roller Disco, unless they’ve asked not to. The 45 people I’ve promised to write poems for will get them over the course of my writing process. As promised, I will sign them and send them to you. Haiku, free verse, epic poem – I don’t know what will come out, but those are all yours. Those same 45 people also get a new compilation of work I will deliver digitally: short stories, essays, sketches, and of course those poems. That collection will be called Hack Music and will be ready as soon as the poems are.

And Finally

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all. When I was growing up, reading Stephen King’s behind the scenes stuff about the publishing industry and how the cogs and wheels all turned, I dreamed about writing a book that was good enough that a publisher would take it and send it out to the world and people would buy it and like it and I’d be a bestselling novelist. I have not given up on that dream, and likely never will.

But the reality is that I’m not there yet, and working on a dream is hard, hungry work. I’ve been a published author for three years and have never had an advance. Until now.

The way that publishing works in my idyllic dream head is not the way it works in reality; maybe it’s how it happened once, but like I’ve said elsewhere, it’s not the 80s anymore and the midlist has all but disappeared. But if this experiment has shown me anything, people still believe in writers and writing, and want books to succeed. This book is going to succeed.

Thank you.

Monday, March 4, 2013

One Day More!

Another day, another destiny. Okay, I’ll stop.

What an amazing journey this has been, everyone. For the past three weeks, I’ve gone from nervously pitching my novel to you, to being afraid I’d come way short of my goal, to hitting my goal early, to watching it grow almost exponentially, to seeing it enter the land of Just Plain Nuts. For a writer not used to getting paid for his fiction, this time has been one of the most exhilarating of my life. I profoundly thank you for helping to make this particular dream a reality.

I’ve always thought that Roller Disco Saturday Night wouldn’t be a particularly easy sell. It’s got a fun title, maybe the best title I’ve ever used for a book (though two of my mysteries – The Color of Blood and Rust and The Taste of Concrete On Your Tongue – might be even better, just because of their over-the-top pulpiness), but it’s set in an odd era, the mid-80s, and it’s a grownup book about six teenagers having their coming of age story.

It’s a weird concept for a novel, and weird concepts in mainstream books don’t generally fly in 2013. At stores and on Amazon, you’ve got the big blockbuster bestsellers and you’ve got the really struggling obscure people. The midlist – the bastion of novels that were odd and sold well but not bestseller well – has all but disappeared. My books tend to be dick lit Nick Hornby type novels, and as far as I know, there’s one person who sells that type of book well in America, and that’s Nick Hornby. But still I write what I love, because these stories need to come out. This one’s going to come out, I hope, in October.

There’s one day left of my Kickstarter campaign for Roller Disco Saturday Night. I’ve raised enough money to take that month off, and likely another. My goal has been more than met. But I know that some folks had said they wanted to donate near the end, and here we come to the end.

The prizes are still valid, including the personalized poem for $50, the hard-copy signed chapterbook for $100, and the chance to have a character named after you in the book for $250, plus all the in-between digital prizes like my other chapterbooks, the digital compilation of new material, and a first look at Roller Disco when it’s finished. All that’s still valid, for another 26 hours.

Once again, everyone, for donating and making this one of the best things ever in my life. Thank you again, and I’ll check in tomorrow, when we wrap this puppy up.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Four Days


This incredible journey we've been sharing over the last few weeks is very nearly coming to a close. My Kickstarter project for Roller Disco Saturday Night is on the verge of wrapping up, and I remain as astounded and humbled as I was last year, when y'all helped me get my first novel, I'm On Fire off the ground. I thank you sincerely, once again.

Here's what's happened: I've already taken April off of one of my jobs. Signed. Approved. Month off. I will be spending much of that month as a bohemian with a laptop, carving out my little world and my little people as intricately as I can. I envision staying up late Friday and Saturday nights, at some coffee shop in the city or at home gunning Red Bulls, up till 3:00 AM trying to get one more chapter done. I want to push myself to get the best work I can out of this novel. I almost want to punish myself in the name of fiction. When I was younger, I thought of how the great writers worked, at least in terms of myth: feverishly, eyes blazing, maybe drunk or maybe flying high, pounding on the keys of their typewriters to make magic.

Well, I don't drink and I don't do drugs, so I have to let enthusiasm suffice. Well that, and my three standards for creativity: ambition, drive, and caffeine.

Writing is hard. Anyone who says it isn't is a liar. But it's fun, too, and the rewards are a thousandfold. Keeping my sanity in check is a big part of why I keep doing it. And your constant, unexpected faith in me? That's a bonus.

There are four days left in this thing. We close up shop on Tuesday morning. If you haven't donated but want to, you still can. If you have and want to increase your funding, you still can. The prizes are still out there - the digital copies of my books, the personalized poems, the getting your name in my book - and they'll be achievable right up to the end.

I'm so incredibly happy with this whole process. You're all terrific people, and deserve the best happiness.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Super Mega Disco Fantastic

It is with a humble heart and a sense of great humility that I come to you with this message:

!!!WE DID IT!!!

Oh my God, guys. So, last night I'm at Starbucks, alternating between my Finance Sorta job and going full-bore research on a book called Stephen King Limited when I got the alert that someone had pledged ten dollars. At once, I went to thank them ... and that's when the outpouring began. Within minutes, folks were donating $50, $75, more - lots more. After Starbucks, I stood outside at the bus stop in the freezing cold Boston chill, my hands blocks of ice, typing to one of my friends to assure him that, yes, he could up his donation if he wanted to.

And on. And on.

My far-flung hope with Roller Disco Saturday Night was that people would care enough about the project to get me just past the goal. It was initially with some trepidation that I settled on the amount (then added $100 for expenses). In the darkest recesses of my cynical soul - and believe it or not, I do have at least some cynicism, especially when it comes to my history with publishing - I knew, knew, this would not work out. I would become another Kickstarter statistic. Fun while it lasted, but it was too much to ask for a weird book with a silly title.

But it wasn't.

Folks, here are the things I bring to the table: faith, inspiration, tenacity, ambition, and drive. I have been writing novels since 1999 - close to 15 years - and only now are they finally getting some interest. I have, what? Eighteen books in my time as a novelist, not to mention a whole bunch of short stories and a crazy number of poems. No matter how much I kept not getting published, I never stopped writing. Ever. Well, there was that one time I had writer's block, but it didn't last. It never does.

As I said yesterday, a lot of what makes a sustained writing career is luck. When I got laid off from my job, luck (and a whole raft of Stephen King book reviews) brought me to the attention of my publisher, who then discovered that I not only wrote well, I also wrote fast. I've been with them since 2009 because of those things, and I haven't let them down yet. Last year, they e-published my short story collection This Terrestrial Hell and my poetry collection, Surf's Up. So they're doing good by me. But in the time since I started with them, I got a real job. And another. And another. And then I took over as producer of sketch comedy at ImprovBoston. Then I decided to direct. And act, sometimes. Then there's the column I write for, one or two a month. All that's good - it's amazing. I am pretty much living the life I want to live.

But it's hard on fiction. When you're writing nonfiction about a subject you love, knowing that you are guaranteed money for it, it becomes easier for that to rise to the surface. Made-up people and their made-up problems have a tendency to get lost in the morass. Plus, the longer you work on a book, the more you start to doubt. I have a huge problem second-guessing the structure of my books. I'll stop in the middle because the structure isn't working, and I'll get to work re-organizing it, and then at some point, I'm an architect, not a writer, and I abandon my books. Both Tangerine and American Storm were victims of that, and my current novel, My Agent of Chaos almost befell the same fate early this year before I realized that I was repeating the pattern. Now that book's almost done, the first wholly original work of fiction I've completed in 3 years.

Roller Disco Saturday Night started off life as a NaNoWriMo novel. I wrote a chunk of it in a month, got past my goal, and then froze. Painstakingly, over the course of the next year, as I was working other jobs, I completed the first draft. Right now, it's not bad. Parts are. And there's these abrupt character shifts and tonal shifts and all this other stuff that just weigh the book down. What I need is to be able to shake off some of the other stuff and fully concentrate on making Roller Disco the best book it can be. Ruth, Seth, Oliver, Barry, Don, and Charles - the six teenagers at the core of my book - are depending on me to make them live. And now I can.

This doesn't mean the Kickstarter has ended, however. We still have 10 days, and all those rewards are still valid. You can still make your way into my book as a character name, you can still get the anthology I'm compiling, you can still get yourself a personal poem. Every penny donated will continue to help me fund my writing time to get this book written faster and better. I appreciate ALL your support.

Of course, if you're sick of me, you can also throw money at a project I'm donating to, a student film called Writer's Block. The daughter of a good friend of mine is the DP and editor on the film, and I'd love to see it take off. If you want to also help make this happen, give money here:

And if you still want to help fund my dreams, my ambitions, my faith, and my drive, once again check out Roller Disco - and my manic video starring me being hyper - right here:

Thank you ALL!

Love, Kev

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Because of My Writing

As I sit and write, my Kickstarter project passed the $2000 mark.

This is mind-blowing, for a number of reasons. Primarily, it's that knowing friends, acquaintances, and even some strangers have faith that I am a writer of worth, and want to work to help build my dream.

Secondarily? One of my major stumbling blocks in getting published has always been my lack of confidence in hyping myself. I was really, really bad at it, to the point that it became a subplot in one of my novels. Working as a producer for a night of sketch comedy, where you have to relentlessly plug not only your work but the work of others, I've gotten better.

I couldn't do any of this, though, without support in a lot of ways beyond the financial. A director at my theater, Sasha Goldberg, offered to film, edit, and produce my promo ad. Major supporters Scarlett Litton and Scott Barrett have been undauntingly aggressive in retweeting and getting the word out. My buddy Jeff Covello came up with the brilliant idea of offering a personalized poem to anyone who donates $50 or more. And on and on.

Kickstarter's whole mission statement is grassroots efforts in getting creative stuff off the ground. Its base statement is all about a community getting together and making things happen. I have several communities: Comedy, Disney, Stephen King, Drive-By Truckers, Springsteen, and more - and ALL of them have rallied to get my name out there and my project funded. I am blessed to know you all.

It's a weird dream growing up, wanting to be a writer. At some point early on, you realize that lightning doesn't generally strike in this field. It's a lot of hard work and a lot of dashed hopes, and luck plays a significant part in you getting famous ... hell, getting read. Careers like Stephen King are well-documented because of their rarity. Some of my favorite writers, like William Goldman, were never household names (even if everyone knows the movies The Princess Bride and Marathon Man). I got kicked in the balls early on in my career by having my agent and my publisher drop me on the same day. (To be fair, my first novel was a weepy little slice of dick lit that works better as catharsis in the wake of my break-up than it does as a story.) By and by, things got easier. The right assignments started coming when I needed them the most - a month after I was laid off, and my severance had dried up. And on. And on.

I was in therapy a few years ago, and one of the most important breakthrough moments I had was in realizing I didn't have to be Stephen King to be a real writer. It's not that I shouldn't chase a dream, it's that I shouldn't be chasing HIS dream. Mostly because he's someone else and I have my own path to forge, but more prosaically because publishing in the 2010s isn't like publishing in the 1970s. The midlist has all but disappeared. You're either a rampant success or you toil in obscurity. Mostly.

Right now, I'm toiling. It's not bad. I've got a few contracts, I write nonfiction books about my favorite writer, I have a sweet gig doing a column for a horror website. It's not bad. It's not rampant success, but it's all right.

But sometimes, just sometimes, it's nice to get a little break. My friends, my readers, my supporters are all giving me that break. Thank you for that. All of you.

It's called Roller Disco Saturday Night, and it's about who I was in high school, and about who I wanted to be at the same time. Donate if you can. Spread the word if you can't.

Love, Kev

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"It's Based On Grease 2 ... Sorta."

Folks, I now have a VIDEO of me hyping the Kickstarter for my novel, Roller Disco Saturday Night! I ... may be just a touch hyper. I may also have chugged a Red Bull just before this happened. Either way, world of yay!

Let's keep it rolling, folks! I am 56% funded and we only have 12 days left! WHEEE!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why I Wrote Roller Disco Saturday Night

Here’s why I wrote a book called Roller Disco Saturday Night:

There’s a longstanding tradition in fiction of modernizing classic works of literature. Steinbeck did it with the story of Cain and Abel with his East of Eden. Annie Proulx brought King Lear up to date with A Thousand Acres. Heck, Stephen King started his career by bringing Cinderella into the horrifying 70s with Carrie. It’s a noble pursuit – the best stories never go away, they’re just retold in different, sometimes more interesting ways.

But one of the things that always struck me was that all those modern works were taking on good, established pieces of lit. From where I stood, no one said, “Hey, let’s take something obviously crappy and try to make some gold out of it.” That’s where I came in. More importantly, that’s where Grease 2 came in.

In my novel Maybe You’re Right, I go on and on ad infinitum about this one scene in Grease 2 where the movie seems to stop and realize it can be good. Michelle Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caulfield are in a diner, just having a conversation. It’s a well-shot scene: everything looks bright and beautiful. There are double entendres, but they’re not gross and obvious, like in most of the film. They have chemistry for the first time in the movie, which is sad for a film for which a whole subplot is chemistry. It’s well-written, well-acted, well--lit. Everything about this scene belongs in a better movie, because right after it, the movie goes straight back to crap.

I realized that I could write that scene – or something similar to it – into a better piece of fiction. I started thinking about both Grease and Grease 2, and that whole 1970s and 1980s obsession with the 1950s, and how I might be able to use that. Then I started thinking about my own 1980s experience – about my obsession with the smart-kid sitcom Head of the Class, and the show You Can’t Do That On Television, and how I had weird crushes on Alan Alda and Steve Gutenberg when I was young. I thought about my first real sexual experience, and reading the book Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, about a struggling family who suddenly becomes rich. And I thought about all those nights spent at the Silver City Skating Rink in Taunton, Massachusetts, skating that big oval to Skid Row’s “18 and Life” and “Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”

All of that into the book, which started off life as a National Novel Writing Month project. It’s one of those books whose title came to me before I started writing it (it actually came to me years earlier, during an improv show in which we were supposed to call out the name of a fake movie and they would create scenes around it. I shouted out “Roller Disco Saturday Night!” every week and they never picked it. I think I was trying to rectify that, too). The book started strong, got tough in the middle, and then got way darker than I’d intended in the final stretch. It’s a glorious, ambitious mess, and needs a whole lot of love before I can get it right for publishing.

My publisher, Cemetery Dance, has offered to publish my work – even the non-horror stuff – as an ebook, but the problem with fiction is that it’s chancier than nonfiction (at least the nonfiction that I write), and I don’t get any up-front money for something like this. And there’s nothing wrong with it being a labor of love. I’ve written 18 novels, directed numerous shows, acted in shows, and remain producer for a night of sketch comedy – and they’re all labors of love. In general, I don’t see a cent out of that. (Contrarily, I work a day job where I move numbers around on charts and I do get paid for that. Not well, but I do get paid. The world is a mystifying place.)

I’m trying to raise capital so I can take time off from one of my many, many jobs and work on getting Roller Disco Saturday Night up to fighting shape. It’s a book of memories – some good, some bad – and I’d like to do right by my past. I’d also like to make sure it’s compelling and entertaining for anyone who isn’t me and hasn’t lived my life. And I’d like to do it by October.

Last year, you guys helped me get my first novel, I’m On Fire, published. This year, if you can help at all, I’d really appreciate it.Writing is my life, and publishing is a big part of that. I have a large, busy existence, and getting the time and tools to make Roller Disco a viable reality would be the best possible platform from which to leap. I'm already off to a kick-ass start! Let's keep that rolling!

Thank you all, you are awesome.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Disco Fantastic

Last year, you guys helped me raise the money to take some time off of work and get my novel, I'm On Fire, written, edited, and ready for publication. Let's do it again!

Writing novels is hard work for anyone, and it's even harder when you work 6 jobs and you're writing because you love, not because it pays well. My publisher has agreed to publish Roller Disco Saturday Night as an ebook, but as with my last book, I'm not getting an advance, and royalties are a far-flung dream of the future. Here's where I need your help:

In order to fire up this new project, I'd like to take a month (or two) sabbatical from one (or two) of my jobs, so I can focus my energy fully on getting Roller Disco up and running. The hardest part is that first month - once the novel gets going, it'll run on its own steam. But in that time I need off of work, I also need to stay afloat, and ahead of the curve as much as possible.

I'm currently working on three other writing projects, as well - nonfiction work that will be paid on delivery. Shuffling those projects around to make room for a novel is also a financial decision that impacts what I'm doing.

On Roller Disco Saturday Night: it's a coming-of-age story set in the late 1980s, when there were still video arcades and teenage girls (and boys) could legitimately still have crushes on Alan Alda. It's a time of great upheaval for Ruth Rose and her five friends, as they enter high school and everything about their small-town life is about to change. A novel about the discoveries, adventures, and upheavals of young people as they try to hold back adulthood for as long as possible, Roller Disco Saturday Night is sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, and always disco fantastic.

So, there it is: no advance, no payment on delivery, and a hope for royalties somewhere down the line. Fiction is hard, but I'm hoping you guys can make it easier.

Thanks for supporting my dream!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Heaven Can Wait

Halfway through my friend TC’s memorial service, I think, No, wait, this is unfair. He’s my age. He’s my friend. This is ridiculous. You don’t have a memorial service for someone who’s my age and my friend. Cut it out, everyone, there’s obviously been a mistake.

It’s not a mistake.

I got the call on January 11th. It was almost a comedy. I was at the gym and missed Deana’s call. On the voicemail, she’d said something about TC, so I ran upstairs to call her. No answer. I called TC. His girlfriend Gillian picked up and told me to call Deana. Meanwhile, Deana was calling me back, popping in on the other line. The pancreatic cancer had done its worst. TC wasn’t expected to make it through the weekend.

I hung up and just stood there for a long while. People went by me. No one stopped. No one put their hand on my shoulder and consoled me. They had no reason to. Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on except when it doesn’t.

The service is great. My friend Mark is in for the weekend and he’s surprised … yet not really surprised … that the thing will have a performance aspect. I was never surprised. We are theater, after all. We are this theater.

Gillian’s sister sings “Alfie” and breaks. TC’s son comes on stage and makes everyone laugh. Actors and actresses who have performed TC’s songs in the past take the vast stage and try to approximate what it was to inhabit his music. Kara Gelormini performs a song…

Way back at the old theater, TC and Adam Brooks put on a show called Ladley & Craig. It was brilliant. The songs were written and rehearsed in advance, but the show itself – something like a Behind the Music for theater, looking at this performing troupe through the decades – was improvised. The tagline of the show was “Music to Love By,” and I did. I didn’t miss a single show back in those heady days, and after the last performance, the whole cast signed sheet music for my favorite song, the Hindenburg dirge, “Oh the Humanity!”

But Kara’s song weekly brought a tear to my eye. Step left, step right, and dance in place again. Tonight, I am overcome.

Everyone’s here. It sounds diminishing, a little, but it’s just the truth. Everyone is here. People I haven’t seen in years. People who I used to watch perform all the time, before I was a director and a producer, when I was just an ImprovBoston fanboy. Friends. Actors. My buddy Josh is here from California, and when I see him I am reminded how much I miss him, especially on stage. There’s a slideshow of TC moments playing on the gigantic screen above, and I’m pretty sure I took one of those pictures: TC at karaoke, doing that thing where he’s holding his ear that I always thought was so adorable and actory.

So, this obviously isn’t real, right? It’s can’t be real. We hung out. This isn’t like going on Facebook and reading that a friend of a friend’s great-grandmother has died. It isn’t even like when my great-grandmother died. Nana Burke was old, old. And it’s not like when my ex’s best friend died, although I went to his memorial when I was 18 and it ruined me then. Al had AIDS. When I met him, I knew that. That was a known quantity. This … I fucking knew him. We did stuff. We ate pancakes and did a duet together a few times, and he sang Meat Loaf songs and he was my friend. My friend. My friends don’t die until we’re way older. This doesn’t happen. This can’t happen.

This is happening.

Greg Wymer, DJ, wrote to me days before the memorial and asked me to give him like five or six songs that TC liked to sing at karaoke. Well, “Bat Out of Hell,” of course, and “Town Called Malice,” by The Jam. Oh, and “Oh! Darling,” by The Beatles, which Gillian also sang during one of hers and TC’s few Rosebud Karaoke nights. When they play “Oh! Darling,” that’s the moment I first break entirely. Shawn is next to me and holding my hand. Mark touched me on the back. I am surrounded by my friends and the people I love with one exception. It’s a big exception.

Gillian sings and we all lose it. A big song from TC’s play, What the Dickens? A sing-along to Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” It’s funny. We’re all singing. We’re all having a good time, because seeing everyone like this, it’s impossible not to. Everything’s great. Everything’s awesome. Except it’s fucking not.

I cram food into my face and for once don’t judge the smokers. Some people are drinking. Some people have to perform tonight. I keep hearing songs I recommended to Greg and on the stairs, I see Emily Holland and I grab her and can’t even get words out. I bet she’s freaked out. I wish I hadn’t mentioned all those songs, because it’s Way Too Much. And I keep thinking, when I go, will this be the type of thing I want? Yes. Sure it is. But I don’t want to go. And I don’t want TC to go. Because he was my friend, and I loved him. I love him. I miss him.

I really miss him.

Step left, step right, and dance in place again.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

heAthens Homecoming

It's called Homecoming, and it comes once a year, during MLK weekend. It's in Athens, but because it's Drive-By Truckers, they call it HeAthens Homecoming. The longer you're there, the more it's home.

I've only been into Drive-By Truckers a short time. Someone put their recent "Birthday Boy" on a mix tape for me in 2010, and it took me another half year to explore a little deeper. Last year in April, I attended my first Rock Show in Atlanta ... and instantly went nuts. (They call their concerts Rock Shows. It's pretty much the coolest ever.) I started collecting Rock Shows like I used to collect Garbage Pail Kids. I went to the August shows at the Georgia theater and the Patterson Hood solo show up here in Boston, and bought tickets to the DC show but then got viruses and couldn't make it. This was my first Homecoming, and I didn't know what to expect. All I knew is that I wanted to get up close to the stage, rock out, and maybe see some familiar faces.

Oh man, did it surpass everything.

That first night was pretty goddamned mind-blowing. The Chitlin Soul Revue was fantastic and it was awesome to sing "Fuck You" with everyone. There was also a longhair lead singer I was powerfully attracted to. Then came Thundercrack, a Springsteen cover band. A Bruce Springsteen cover band, made up of Drive-By Truckers' crew, opening for the band. Guys, Springsteen is the only music I like more than DBT at this point, so Thundercrack was a revelation. Patterson getting up on vocals for "Candy's Room" was like the peanut butter meets chocolate moment, only more righteous. It's what happens when you cross the spiritual with the dirty-down physicality of fucking: transcendent in all the right ways ... and maybe some of the wrong ones.

I won't go too much into the setlist that first night. A guy on my DBT message board, Beantown Bubba, has this way of judging shows, determining by which song he felt he got his money's worth. I was in from the start, but things kicked into high gear with "Mercy Buckets." The song's a game changer. If that wasn't enough, I got "Tornadoes" - I could listen to a whole show of "Tornadoes" - and my inaugural DBT song, "Birthday Boy."

But: I also got to hang out with my friend Paige, who I'd first met at the Georgia Theater. I hung out with Sarah and Luke, who I knew from the Patterson show. I reconnected with the Swamps, hung out with Beth and her husband (whose name keeps escaping me), and millions of others. Danny, whose name should be "So where's your brother?" Then came the big-name fans: I met Jonicont, who runs the message board! I met Clams, for chrissake! It was kind of a big deal for a Boston Yankee like me.

Then the tragedy. We found out early the next morning that merch guy, Thundercrack band member, and longtime friend of DBT (and one-time manager of Patterson Hood) Craig Lieske had died of a heart attack. At first, I thought it couldn't possibly be true. I remember reading it, thinking, "No way, I shook his hand and bought a shirt from him literally eight hours ago." But yes way. This after my friend TC died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, the day before I'd flown down to Georgia. The Homecoming Shows were sort of my way of escaping that for a little while. Tragedy should not strike twice in one damn week. I met Craig only briefly in August and of course he remembered me this time.

The show was intense, the most intense Rock Show or concert to which I'd ever been witness. Some of the choices seemed countercathartic at first, but of course they were exactly right. On my left arm, I've got a Cooley Bird tattooed, and underneath I have the legend "It's Great to Be Alive." When the first strains of "World of Hurt" started up, I almost lost it. Again. For whatever reason, I started crying during "Girls Who Smoke," a song I'd never really liked before last night's show but now loved. Talk about countercathartic.

"People Who Died" ruined us. All of us. Everyone at the front of the stage was either in shock or in tears. Swamp passed around a flash and although I never drink whiskey, I did that night. Patterson holding up the bottle of Maker's Mark, upside-down so it drizzled down his arm: an image that will stay with me forever, although I took almost no pictures that second night. It seemed wrong, somehow.

The final night, I saw Danny ("Where's your brother?") outside again. Inside, Sarah introduced me to the other known gay dudes from the boards. Big Tom - is that right? I suck at names - and his partner. I bought a lot of merch. Like, way more than I probably should have. Up front, I met with all my friends again, and the atmosphere was a little different tonight. Still reverent, but more jubilant, too. It's not that we were getting over, it's that we were getting through. And we were ready to rock, because rocking is how Craig left us.

I didn't know what to expect of the Camp Amped band. It's a band made up of kids from the local rock and roll camp, and DBT's invited them to play with them for the last three years of Homecoming. I was prepared to be supportive of the kids at any cost. It's gotta be scary to be a teenager and get up in front of a paying audience and sing, so my mindset was, "Even if they're not good, cheer for them, because you don't want to ruin them or stop them from pursuing their dreams." But, MAN, were they actually GOOD. I knew that when they launched into a cover of "Rhiannon," but then when they started switching instruments and singing, I was thoroughly impressed. Was the singer playing keyboards? Was the lead guitarist playing bass? Did everyone get a chance at drums?

I shouldn't go too much into Velocirapture, because although the music was good, I had a really prurient reaction to the lead singer and I was very distracted by the flashes of skin through his torn-up T-shirt.

When DBT took the stage, the crowd went NUTS. I think some people expected "Lookout Mountain," but everyone was still thoroughly rocked. It rarely stopped rocking after that, though of course they slowed things down with "Heathens," a super intense "Used to Be a Cop," and a draining "When the Pin Hits the Shell." Clams grabbed me around the shoulders during the explicitly gay "ten fingers and ten toes" part of "Zip City," and that made me so happy. I've never felt ostracized in this community, something I never expected and something I am sincerely grateful for.

There's a moment during "Hell No, I Ain't Happy" when Jay, Patterson, Cooley, and Matt get up on mics and sing the title together. It's like that moment in DBT's cover of "Like a Rolling Stone" when Patterson and former members Jason and Shonna join Cooley on the last chorus - when all the voices mix together in such a wonderful noise that it feels like being delivered into something better. The show the night before was necessarily short - there was no way the band could have encored after "People Who Died" - but this was the even more necessary sequel. The psychobilly end of "Angels & Fuselage" worked as a way to underline the whole weekend, and when EZB slammed his drumstick down once more, it flew into the crowd and someone up front caught it. Then someone else grabbed one of Patterson's guitar picks ... and handed it to me.

There are few words to describe what this band now means to me (which is why I used a lot, ha-ha). I flew down to Georgia knowing this was a weekend I needed. It ended up being a weekend we all needed.

Thanks, everyone, for my first Heathens Homecoming. You made it special.

See you at the Rock Show.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Whiskey and Waffles

Running away from grief has always been my thing
geographic cure, best way to avoid the sting
there were always excuses not to be by your side
I was on a plane searching for silence when you died

Touched down in the middle of a standstill storm
up the road was the music I needed to keep me warm
but tragedy never stops, it just spreads around
there’s no relief from grief in this whole damn town

and the band, they played the necessary sound
and we cried as we passed that flask around
and as the crew broke down, we stood stranded in the dark

We met in the light a little while later
over waffles and sweet tea and mashed potatoes
and as we broke down, we shared that bottle of Maker’s Mark

so rarely do we know what we mean to one another
when strangers are friends and friends become your brothers
you never know the way it’ll hit you inside
sometimes there’s no catharsis when the people you love are the people who died

and the band they played the necessary sound
we wept as we passed that flask around
when the crew broke down, we stood restless in the dark

the light was blinding just an hour later
we never finished our waffles or our mashed potatoes
we just mourned and swapped that bottle of Maker’s Mark

I’d never go so far as to say my grief was unique
but tragedy shouldn’t hit twice in one damn week
the memory of a laugh shouldn’t hold this much sorrow
or that handshake when he said he’d see me tomorrow

I want to be able to deal with this the proper way
instead of framing it in rhymes or running away
if this isn’t the solution, then maybe it’s a start
lose myself in the noise and blow this pain apart

I hope the band plays the necessary sound
and that we pass another flask around
and that we hold it together, together in the dark

whiskey before waffles, deep in the night
I hope that we all find the light
and that we never finish this bottle of Maker’s Mark